Obituary: Lord Brandon of Oakbrook

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IN 1988, shortly after the Press had castigated the members of the House of Lords over their decision to continue the Attorney General's injunction against the publication in Britain of Spycatcher, the memoirs of the former MI5 officer Peter Wright, Lord Brandon of Oakbrook took what was then the unusual step of explaining to the public why he had made the decision.

In a Guardian article he reiterated his support for a free press, but whilst he accepted the publication of the book in America had weakened the Attorney General's position, he believed he had an arguable case for the protection of an important public interest. Such a course of action was not unique but at the time, generally judges did not feel compelled, nor were they encouraged, to explain their decisions in newspapers. It was apposite that on the day he died, the House of Lords followed his example by explaining in simple terms the reasoning behind their decisions in the Pinochet case.

Henry Brandon was born in 1920, the younger son of the former Joan Simpson and Captain V.R. Brandon, who had been imprisoned in Germany after the First World War for allegedly spying off the North Sea coast. His release from Colditz had only been secured following negotiations at the highest level.

Brandon was educated at Winchester and King's College, Cambridge, at both of which he was a scholar. At the latter, where he read Classics, he became the Stewart of Ranloch Scholar in 1939. His studies were interrupted by the Second World War in which he rose to the rank of Major in the Royal Artillery and served in Madagascar where he was awarded the Military Cross in 1942 after directing operations from behind the French Vichy lines; he later served in India and Burma.

When he returned to Cambridge he switched to reading Law. It was a period at which legal teaching at the university was at its highest and his brilliant contemporaries included three who became the Law Lords Templeman, Griffiths and Oliver of Aylmerton.

He was called to the Bar in 1946, joining Inner Temple and being awarded both an Entrance and a Yarborough Anderson scholarship. If his career at the Bar made few headlines, it was because almost all his practice was in the Admiralty Division and much of it related to salvage arbitration. Unlike many of his contemporaries he eschewed appointments to Quarter Sessions as steps on the judicial ladder. He took silk in 1961 and from 1963 to 1966 he was a member of the panel from which Wreck Commissioners were chosen.

In 1966, at what was then the astonishingly early age of 46, he was appointed to the Admiralty Division of the High Court bench. It was a year for young men, for John Donaldson, who would later succeed Lord Denning as Master of the Rolls, was the same age when he was appointed to the Queen's Bench Division.

Brandon remained a puisne judge for 10 years and some thought that perhaps because of his somewhat austere and meticulous attitude in court he might have been passed over for promotion. Another factor which counted against him was the limited nature of his work. Although at the time the Admiralty Court was part of the Probate and Divorce Division he made little secret of his distaste for the latter cases.

One of his very infrequent forays into the eye of the public had come early in his judicial career when he commented, "I am sick and tired of hearing that a child of five won't do as it is told; it is a parent's duty to make children do as they are told and it is in the children's best interest." A photograph of the Brandon family was duly wheeled out and Lady Brandon told the Evening News that she and her husband had never had any difficulty in "steering our children in the way we believe to be best for them." Another reason for his late preferment may have been his disinclination, when the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division was broken up and he became a member of the Queen's Bench Division, to undertake criminal cases and to go on circuit.

When Brandon was finally appointed (along with Donaldson) to the Court of Appeal in 1978 it was soon clear he would not be intimidated by his senior colleagues. The story is that after one disagreement with Lord Denning and Lord Justice Lawton, the former remarked as they left court that perhaps after all Brandon had been right. It has been suggested that sitting with colleagues relaxed him and that he enjoyed the more club- like atmosphere of the Court of Appeal. He remained there a bare three years before in 1981 he became a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.

In the House of Lords in 1985 he dissented from the majority who gave doctors the right to prescribe the contraceptive pill to girls under 16 without their parents consent, commenting that it was "promoting, encouraging or facilitating young girls to have unlawful sexual intercourse". He joined with Lord Scarman in saying that a woman had a right to say "no and change her mind even after sexual intercourse has begun". He was a leader in decisions on equal pay and the right for girls to have an equal number of places at grammar schools. In 1984 he gave the main judgement which stated that parents can be guilty of kidnapping their own children. Shortly before his retirement in 1991, he was one of the unanimous tribunal which ruled that a husband could be convicted of raping his wife, so overturning centuries of legal precedent.

Outside court he was a much more gregarious man, with cricket, bridge and travelling as his recreations. He married Jeanette Janvrin in 1955; two years earlier she had been chosen as Britain's Perfect Secretary.

James Morton

Henry Vivian Brandon, judge: born 3 June 1920; MC 1942; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1946; Member of the Bar Council 1951-53; QC 1961; Kt 1966; Judge of the High Court of Justice, Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division 1966-71, Family Division 1971-78; Judge of the Admiralty Court 1971-78; Judge of the Commercial Court 1977-78; PC 1978; a Lord Justice of Appeal 1978-81; a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary 1981-91; created 1981 Baron Brandon of Oakbrook; married 1955 Jeanette Janvrin (three sons, one daughter); died Stratton, Cornwall 24 March 1999.