Man of contrasts shuns the limelight

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The Independent Online
The appointment of Lord Bingham, 62, as Lord Chief Justice came as a surprise to many barristers and judges because they had never viewed him as a natural candidate. Most of his legal career had been spent in civil work, they said.

A lifetime in the criminal courts is not, however, the sole or even a necessary qualification. In fact, the job involves a lot more than hearing criminal appeals. As one of the country's best brains, he was viewed by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, as easily clever enough to handle any eventuality. Observers are hard-pressed to think of when he has put a foot seriously wrong, but he is viewed as not quite so "clubbable" as his predecessor Lord Taylor or indeed Lord Justice Rose. He caused resentment at the Bar in 1991 when as a Court of Appeal judge he suggested solicitors should appear in the higher courts thus breaking the barristers' monopoly.

A man of contrasts, he prefers to shun the limelight but was one of the first judges to agree to media interviews. In his first news conference last Friday he revealed strong opposition to Michael Howard's sentencing plans, though in less blunt language than Lord Taylor had used. He also revealed that he did not see eye to eye with Mr Howard on a number of other controversial topics, such as the abolition of the mandatory life sentence for murder and the Home Secretary's power to set "tariffs" and decide on release.

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