Judge who was ready to speak his mind

Lord Taylor: Tributes paid to distinguished lawyer whose views pitted him against Government
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Lord Taylor is regarded as the man who brought street credibility with sharp intellect to the stuffy surrounds of the Royal Courts of Justice, where he sits as the country's most senior judge. He was, after all, the man known for changing the face of football with his report into the Hillsborough football tragedy.

More recently he has become known for his outspoken attacks on Michael Howard and the Home Secretary's "prison works" policies - accusing the Government of introducing a flood of hasty, ill-conceived and contradictory legislation. As if that were not enough, he told Mr Howard flatly that his latest proposals for tough minimum sentences would not not work.

Never before in recent history have judges so damagingly and publicly voiced their views outside the courtroom, forcing ministers on to the defensive - but since rules demanding their silence were lifted in 1987, never before have judges had so much change forced upon them so rapidly, which so eroded their powers.

However, with nearly 40 years experience as a criminal lawyer, before joining the bench, Lord Taylor is used to confrontation. Unlike his predecessor, Lord Lane, Lord Taylor was also prepared to explain his actions to the public, opening up his office to public scrutiny and media access - not always in his favour. He has been criticised for defending the secretive system of judicial appointments and making no concessions for the lack of women and black people among the ranks.

Lord Taylor always believed that if he - from a Jewish minority background - could make it on merit, so could others. In fact he believed that his roots, coupled with his Newcastle grammar school education, helped distance himself from the stereotypical view of the judiciary as the conservative establishment. "I would like to think that I am not thought to be wholly out of touch - that I am in the mainstream of life in the country," he said.

He won a scholarship to Cambridge, was called to the Bar in 1954 and as a barrister, prosecuted some of the highest profile trials, including those of corrupt property developer John Poulson and the former Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe.

He became a High Court judge in 1980, an Appeal Court judge in 1988 and Lord Chief Justice in 1992. His first spat with the Government came shortly afterwards when he attacked plans to restrict a defendant's right to silence and its delay in setting up a body to investigate miscarriages of justice.

The Lord Chancellor's department decided to release the news of Lord Taylor's illness last night to pre-empt a speculative story planned by a journalist. Downing Street was alerted and the statement was put out last night. The full text of the statement said: "The Lord Chief Justice, the Right Honourable the Lord Taylor of Gosforth, has been diagnosed as having cancer, and requires radiotherapy treatment. On medical advice, he is to retire as Lord Chief Justice. Until his successor is appointed, Lord Taylor will continue to carry out his administrative duties. The date of his retirement and his successor will be announced in due course."

As tributes to his judicial talents flooded in last night, they were summed up by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, who said: "I am very sad indeed. I would like to pay tribute to his great energy and commitment, to his achievements, and to his contribution to the development of the criminal law during his time in office as Lord Chief Justice."

Anthony Scrivener QC, a former chairman of the Bar Council, said: "He was the greatest Lord Chief Justice during my career, both as a lawyer and as a human being - a marvellous man."

Past precedent suggests that his successor will be one of the four other Heads of Division in the criminal justice system or one of the 32 Lord Justices of Appeal. But as one senior lawyer said last night: "You would be hard put to find an obvious successor." Two names suggested as possible candidates were Lord Woolf, author of the inquiry report into the Strangeways prison riot, and Lord Justice Rose, a "clever and shrewd all-rounder".