Allan Levy

Family barrister and champion of children's rights

The leading family barristers are not generally known to the public. Allan Levy through his frequent broadcasts may have been the exception.

Allan Edward Levy, barrister: born Bury, Lancashire 17 August 1942; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1969; QC 1989; Assistant Recorder 1990-93, Recorder 1993-2001; Chairman, Staffordshire Pindown Child Care Inquiry 1990; Chairman, Intercountry Adoption Lawyers' Association 1991-95; died London 26 September 2004.

The leading family barristers are not generally known to the public. Allan Levy through his frequent broadcasts may have been the exception.

He was regularly asked to comment on current events and policy relating to family law on both television and radio. He had a real flair for this. He was able to be authoritative and balanced, and yet be unpompous and unstuffy. He could explain complex ideas simply and in a way which made sense to the listener.

His media persona was based on an outstanding professional career. The law was his life, and at the centre of that he was a valiant and doughty proponent of children's rights. He was a leading expert on child law at the English Bar. His contribution to the development of the law, particularly in area of the rights of and the protection of children, was remarkable.

Levy was born in 1942 in Bury, now in Greater Manchester, and was educated at Bury Grammar School and then Hull University, where he is remembered as a quiet student. He read for the Bar and was called at the Inner Temple in 1969. He developed a growing interest in family law, children's rights and in medical ethics.

In 1982 he published Wardship Proceedings and then, in 1985, another textbook, the 10th edition of Adoption of Children (with J.F. Josling). It was as a result of this that he came to the notice of the Official Solicitor's office. He began to be instructed in a range of high-profile cases, some of which, because of the public importance of their subject matter and the difficult ethical or legal issues involved, gained significant media attention.

One of the first of these was a case in 1987 where an Oxford student attempted unsuccessfully to prevent a woman with whom he had had a brief relationship from having an abortion.

In 1992 he appeared in the first of a number of cases which have considered the question of an adult's right to refuse life-saving treatment. He acted for the father of a Jehovah's Witness. She had been admitted to hospital following a road traffic accident and had refused blood transfusions. Her condition deteriorated and she became unconscious. Her father and the man with whom she lived applied successfully to the court for a declaration that it would be lawful for the hospital to administer blood to her in the emergency situation which had arisen.

His reputation for dealing with difficult and sensitive issues, particularly in relation to children, grew. Sadly, from time to time, concerns arise over the way in which children within the care system, who are often voiceless and without defenders, are treated. One such occasion arose in 1990 when Allan Levy was asked to be Chairman of the Staffordshire Pindown Inquiry.

He was told there was "a little local difficulty" in Staffordshire which would take about three to four weeks to look at. The reality turned out to involve 75 days of evidence from 153 witnesses and the examination of about 150,000 pages of evidence, eventually leading to a 300-page report.

Pindown got its name because the main practitioner of the regime, when faced with a supposedly difficult child in his charge, would point his finger and say he would "pin down" the problem. Children were put into rooms called "pindown rooms" sometimes for periods of weeks or months without adequate clothing, recreation, communication and furnishings. The inquiry report, which was published in 1991, was both authoritative and influential; it trenchantly condemned the practice of pindown and made important recommendations. Some of the recommendations went on to be implemented, but some awaited implementation for over 10 years afterwards, to Levy's deep frustration.

After the Pindown report he continued to be at the forefront of developments in the law relating to children. A major reform of children's law, the Children Act 1989, came into force in 1991 and he was involved in leading decisions on its interpretation. The medical profession also turned to him for authoritative and balanced advice. He chaired the British Medical Association Steering Committee which led to publication in December 2000 of comprehensive practical guidance on the ethical and legal issues which arise in health care of patients under 18, Consent, Rights and Choices in Health Care for Children and Young People.

His standing within the legal profession was recognised when he took silk in 1989, became a Bencher of the Inner Temple in 1993 and sat as an Assistant Recorder from 1990 to1993 and then as a Recorder from 1993 to 2001.

Developments in human-rights law in recent years were seen by Levy as an opportunity for advancing the rights of children. In 1998 he took a case to the European Court of Human Rights which raised an important issue in relation to the use of corporal punishment. A stepfather beat a nine-year-old boy with a garden cane causing the boy to suffer severe bruising. The stepfather was charged with the criminal offence of assault occasioning actual bodily harm. He raised the defence of necessary and reasonable chastisement, and was found not guilty.

On behalf of the child, Levy argued that there had been a breach of the child's right not to be subjected to "inhuman or degrading treatment" under Article 3 of the Convention for Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The court found that there had been a breach and that in permitting the defence of reasonable chastisement the United Kingdom was failing to protect children from such ill-treatment.

In another case in 1999, he successfully persuaded the House of Lords that it should be possible for a child who had been brought up in local authority care, and who alleged that the negligence of the local authority had caused him psychiatric injury, to bring an action for negligence against that authority.

Even though he was suffering from cancer of the oesophagus, in May and again in July this year he was involved in preparing submissions to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on a matter close to his heart. His concern was the proposal to leave intact the defence of lawful chastisement in offences of common assault. He made his view clear: to do so would not meet the UK's obligations under international human-rights instruments. In the same vein, in July he published an article expressing clearly and passionately his objections to corporal punishment.

Despite his skill in explaining family issues to a public audience through the media, and his friendliness and humour with those he knew, Allan Levy was an unassuming and private man. He had a love of books. His home was full of them and he once said he could not move because he could not move all the books. He had a marvellous collection of Lowry paintings. He was an unfailing supporter of Manchester City Football Club. He loved travel. He would travel to watch the English cricket team aboard, as well as to wilder and more remote shores, as far flung as Antarctica.

Sometimes he would combine his love of travel with lecturing abroad. He was, for example, a speaker at the Seventh International Congress on Child Abuse in Rio de Janeiro in 1988. He had gone to speak about child abuse in the light of the Cleveland Inquiry, but came back deeply struck by the plight of the "street children". This was typical of his compassion and the concern for the rights of children which characterised his life.

Pamela Scriven



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