Lord Bridge of Harwich: Judge who presided over the trial of the Birmingham Six - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Lord Bridge of Harwich: Judge who presided over the trial of the Birmingham Six

Nigel Cyprian Bridge, judge: born 26 February 1917; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1947, Bencher 1964, Reader 1985, Treasurer 1986; Junior Counsel to the Treasury (Common Law) 1964-68; Kt 1968; a Judge of the High Court, Queen's Bench Division 1968-75; Presiding Judge, Western Circuit 1972-74; PC 1975; a Lord Justice of Appeal 1975-80; member, Security Commission 1977-85, chairman 1982-85; created 1980 Baron Bridge of Harwich; married 1944 Margaret Swinbank (died 2006; one son, two daughters); died London 20 November 2007

A perception exists among many segments of the media and the public that senior judges are detached from common experience and oblivious to the daily routine of the general population. It is a school of thought that relies on high-profile, bemused judicial queries of the "Who is Gazza?" and "What is a lunchbox?" variety, and whether that perception is broadly accurate or not, it certainly could not be applied to Nigel Bridge.

A man of wide interests, considerable intelligence and quick and acerbic wit, Bridge was a linguist and former newspaper reporter who wrote a novel (unpublished) before the age of 30, and then went on to get a mathematics degree from the Open University at the age of 86, following eight years of study. In between, he had a highly respected career at the Bar, ultimately becoming an influential – if at times controversial and combative – judge as he worked his way up the ladder to the law lords.

Although his overall career was impressive, there is still no escaping one landmark case in Bridge's time on the bench – the trial of the Birmingham Six in the summer of 1975. The bombings in Birmingham in November 1974 brought to a crescendo a series of alleged IRA attacks and arrests over the previous 12 months. In December 1973, the Maguire Seven had been arrested and charged with making explosives. Then, in October 1974, bombs killed five and injured 65 in two pubs in Guildford. So when IRA blasts killed another 21 people and injured 182 in two more pubs in Birmingham, the mood across Britain was one of fear and panic that piled pressure on the police to make quick arrests and get comprehensive convictions.

And convictions they did get, but in circumstances that in retrospect did no favours to the British criminal justice system or to Bridge himself. The judge faced considerable criticism, both immediately following the convictions (the press lambasted him for not recommending minimum prison terms for the six) and following the ultimate ruling 16 years later that the convictions were unsafe (for, some said, adopting a pro-prosecution stance in his summing up to the jury at the original trial).

Indeed, the reality is that Bridge did direct the jury strongly that, in his view, the defendants' assertions that the police had beaten confessions out of them were not credible. Many years later, after the convictions were thrown out, Bridge expressed regret at the miscarriage of justice, while always batting away any suggestion that he bore an element of personal responsibility.

Ironically, Nigel Bridge had never wanted to be a criminal law judge (his initial legal inclinations lay more with the civil side), even though his first brush with advocacy suggested he was perfectly well suited to that discipline. Born in 1917 to a naval officer father (whom he never met) and a mother from a cotton manufacturing family in Lancashire, Bridge gained a scholarship to Marlborough College. But a free and at times pugnacious spirit meant that he quickly grew frustrated with school. Bailing out of Marlborough, he headed for Europe and became fluent in French and German, before returning to do a stint in provincial newspapers.

A year after the beginning of the Second World War, he was conscripted into the Army and eventually took a commission in the King's Royal Rifle Corps. He was married in 1944 and demobbed two years later. But it was his army career that triggered an interest in advocacy, as almost by chance he built a reputation as a tenacious and successful defending officer in courts martial cases for desertion.

After the war, Bridge was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1947 (he was first in his class) and initially practised as a personal injury and local government barrister. His sharp advocacy skills quickly built him a solid reputation and by the mid-1960s he had become Junior Counsel to the Treasury. He then moved to the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court in 1968 and the Appeal Court in 1975. Five years after that, he was promoted to the law lords, a huge achievement in an environment that normally excluded those without university degrees.

He was appointed to the Security Commission in 1982, where he was again involved in several high-profile and controversial decisions. But it was the Spycatcher injunction and appeals by Greenham Common protesters that rounded out his career on the bench.

In the former, he and Lord Oliver of Aylmerton wrote the minority dissenting judgment arguing against the granting of the injunction preventing publication in the UK. At the time, their view won the backing of the renowned judge and former Master of the Rolls, Lord Denning, who wrote in The Independent: "I find the reasoning of . . . Lord Bridge and Lord Oliver more convincing than that of the majority. Each emphasised the fact that the book was freely available in the United States and even here, and that it was ridiculous now to ban it here." In that dissenting judgement, Bridge warned the government that it would be humiliated by the European Court of Human Rights. And ultimately it was.

Regarding the Greenham protesters, Bridge and his law lord colleagues won their hearts by ruling that local by-laws had been too widely interpreted and many of the protesters' convictions were ultimately thrown out.

His thirst for learning and interest in subjects outside the law lasted well into later life. On completing his degree in maths four years ago, Bridge reasoned: "I had a mathematician daughter and I'd not done any maths since I was 14, so when I retired I thought I ought to keep my mind working on something."

Jonathan Ames

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Energy Markets Analyst

£400000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Energy Markets An...

Junior Web Analyst – West Sussex – Up to £35k DOE

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Plus excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions...

Nursery Manager

£22000 - £23000 per annum: Randstad Education Bristol: We are currently recrui...

Web Analyst – Permanent – Up to £40k - London

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week