Obituary: Harold Lightman

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The Independent Culture
HAROLD LIGHTMAN was an example of someone who overcame initial disadvantages to reach the peak of his profession.

He was born in Leeds in 1906. His parents were Lithuanian Jews who had fled Russian pogroms and his father set up a furniture manufacturing company. Lightman attended the City of Leeds School until he was 14, when he began to experience headaches. He worked in his father's factory, and at the age of 18 discovered that poor eyesight was the cause of his problem, cured by the use of glasses. Then, while his father was on holiday, he did a good deal for the business; his reward of pounds 100 enabled him to study at evening classes in Leeds, and qualify as an accountant.

By 1927, at the age of 21, he was a partner in the accountancy firm of Lightman and Sharp, the director of two manufacturing companies, and had written a book on company financing. He also became engaged in Liberal Party politics, having already, at the age of 17, shared a platform with Lloyd George. He was the Liberal candidate for the Bramley ward in the 1927 Leeds City Council election and, although unsuccessful on this occasion, was subsequently offered three Parliamentary candidatures for the 1929 General Election. However, he decided not to stand for Parliament but to study for the Bar.

In 1931 he came to London to complete his legal studies and was called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn the following year. He would have been awarded the inn's top scholarship, but it was discovered that he was too old to be eligible for it. (However, the same scholarship was awarded to his son Gavin in 1961 and to his grandson Daniel in 1995.)

Lightman was disadvantaged in his early legal career by the fact that he had not been to university and was Jewish. However, he had great determination and a considerable knowledge of accounts. This latter skill enabled him, while still a pupil, to assist the head of his chambers at 1 New Square, Alexander Grant QC, who was so impressed with the advice given by Lightman that he invited him to stay on as a member of chambers. This he did for 10 years until Grant's death in 1942, when he moved to 13 Old Square.

During the Second World War Lightman served in the Home Guard and his practice continued to grow. He was appointed a QC in 1955. His work, because of his background, was largely in the fields of company law and insolvency, but he was well regarded by his solicitor clients and his fellow practitioners as someone who always gave to his work the detailed care and attention it needed and whose advocacy was sound and reliable.

In 1962 he was appointed a bencher of Lincoln's Inn and in 1966 became head of chambers. One of his leading cases was that of National Provincial Bank v Ainsworth where Lightman, appearing for a deserted wife, persuaded the majority of the Court of Appeal (Lords Denning, MR, and Donovan) that she had a right, good as against a bank mortgagee, to stay on in the matrimonial home. This decision was subsequently overturned by the House of Lords, but the position is now governed by statute.

Unfortunately Lightman's career was cut short in 1967, when he suffered a stroke; although with great determination he taught himself to write with his left hand, he was unable to resume his practice. He and his wife continued to live in a flat in Lincoln's Inn where he was able to enjoy the company of his friends: his great geniality made him a popular member.

It gave him great pleasure when his son Gavin (then also a Chancery silk) became a bencher in 1987, and even greater pleasure to see him appointed a judge of the High Court in 1994; of his other sons Stuart is a solicitor and Stafford is Professor of Medicine at Bristol University.

Harold Lightman, barrister: born Leeds 8 April 1906; called to the Bar, Lincoln's Inn 1932; QC 1955; Master of the Bench of Lincoln's Inn 1962; Head of Chambers, 13 Old Square 1966; married 1936 Gwendoline Ostrer (three sons); died London 27 September 1998.