Lord Lane

Lord Chief Justice criticised for dismissing the appeal of the Birmingham Six

Geoffrey Lane, Lord Chief Justice of England from 1980 until 1992, will be best remembered for his remark in the 1987 hearing by the Court of Appeal into the appeal of the Birmingham Six convicted at Lancaster Crown Court in 1975. Dismissing the appeal, he commented, "The longer this case has gone on the more convinced this court has become that the verdict of the jury was correct." A further appeal by the Six was allowed some four years later and, although the tribunal was careful not to criticise Lane, there were calls for his resignation. Lord Lane was not the only senior judge who made what turned out to be ill-advised comments on the merits of the case. Lord Denning was another. Lane should be better remembered for his 1991 ruling that a husband could be convicted of the rape of his wife, so removing a shameful anachronism from the law.

Geoffrey Dawson Lane was born in 1918, the son of Percy Lane, a Lincolnshire bank manager. He was educated at Shrewsbury School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read Classics and Law, obtaining a Double First. During the Second World War he served as a Squadron Leader in the Royal Air Force, where most of his work was towing gliders, and he received the Air Force Cross in 1943. In 1946, he was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn, of which he became a Bencher in 1966.

Lane had a mixed civil and criminal practice and appeared as junior counsel in the trial of James Hanratty convicted of the notorious A6 murder. He was also a member of the tribunal which inquired into the convictions of Timothy Evans and Reginald Christie in the Rillington Place murders. He took silk in 1962 and his judicial career followed the then traditional pattern. He was appointed Deputy Chairman of Bedford Quarter Sessions in 1960 and was the Recorder of Bedford from 1963 until 1966, when he was appointed to the High Court bench, joining the Court of Appeal in 1974.

In 1980, he was appointed Lord Chief Justice in succession to Lord Widgery, whose senility had been covered by his colleagues for the better part of a year. As a result Lane inherited something of an administrative backlog, with which he dealt admirably. From the beginning he showed himself to be a humane and much more liberal judge than many of his predecessors, believing that non-violent offenders should be kept out of prison.

He was really the first of the Lord Chief Justices to set out sentencing guidelines and, two years after his appointment, in the case of Aramah, he set the tariff for sentencing in drug cases which, with updates, has remained the guide for over twenty years. Later he set out a tariff for sentencing in cases of incest.

He was not afraid to make known his views on social policy. During the general election campaign of May 1983, he told the National Association of Prison Visitors: "We must start trying to get back a little way towards what your critics call Victorian morality. If we don't, it will go on getting worse." Perhaps he was not able to adapt to a swiftly changing society in which less and less respect was shown to authority.

Although at the beginning of this appointment he treated with William Whitelaw and later Leon Brittan, this came to an abrupt halt when a report in The Sunday Times wrongly suggested that judges were thwarting the Home Office in its attempt to reduce the prison population. Lane believed this to be a direct leak by the Home Secretary and relations were broken off until 1986. Firmly of the belief that a judge was best staying away from the public gaze, he also believed that solicitors had no place as High Court advocates.

One of Lane's more controversial decisions and one which would almost certainly not be made today came when, in 1987, he halved a 12-month sentence which meant the immediate release of a 46-year-old paediatrician who had a 23-volume collection of explicit and expensive child pornography. Lane thought it "not inappropriate, perhaps, in view of the puerility of this type of behaviour, to compare it to a schoolboy collecting cigarette cards in olden times. . ."

He was anxious that he should be seen as wholly impartial. When, in 1984, he was due to hear a case regarding the use of road blocks by the police to prevent striking miners reaching picket lines, counsel argued that he had made adverse comments regarding picketing in an earlier case. Although he saw no reason to do so, nevertheless he recused himself.

Lane's tenure as Lord Chief Justice could be seen as one in which the old-fashioned, unlistening and harsh tribunal favoured by some of his predecessors was gradually phased out. In general, however, he was keen to uphold convictions, arguing that juries had heard and seen all the evidence. He regarded convictions obtained on perjured evidence as something approaching rough justice.

By the time of his retirement, following a series of high-profile cases in which convictions were quashed, the public had, to an extent, lost confidence in the criminal justice system. After the convictions of the Birmingham Six were finally quashed he came under extreme pressure to resign and when he did so, in 1992, he complained about "orchestrated and ill-informed attacks on the judiciary" but to an extent, he had only himself to blame.

On his retirement he accepted an invitation from the Prison Reform Trust to conduct an independent inquiry into the imposition of a mandatory life sentence - something he considered an anachronism - on a conviction for murder. He had been a member of the Parole Board from 1970 to 1972, serving as Deputy Chairman in his last year.

Lane had a much more unconventional use of language than most judges of his vintage. He liked the 19th-century American slang word "hornswoggle", often used by Leslie Charteris's The Saint and meaning to cheat and deceive. Lane used it for judges who gave meandering and long-winded summings-up which baffled juries.

A thoroughly entertaining after-dinner speaker he was one of a number of senior judicial figures who felt able to let down their wigs at dinners of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association. In the days when political correctness was not all, and at the time when women were first admitted to these gatherings, he raised hackles and laughter alike by telling a story about an elderly, recently married man and a fire-engine.

James Morton

News
The clocks go forward an hour at 1am on Sunday 30 March
news
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning? Apparently not.
Sport
footballMatch report: Real fight back to ruin Argentinian's debut
News
Bruce, left, with Cream bandmates Ginger Rogers, centre, and Eric Clapton in 1967
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker