Lord Silsoe

Leading counsel in public inquiries


David Malcolm Trustram Eve, barrister: born London 2 May 1930; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1955, Bar Auditor 1965-70; QC 1972; succeeded 1976 as second Baron Silsoe; married 1963 Bridget Hart-Davis (one son, one daughter); died Reading 31 December 2005.

From the Windscale inquiry into the controversial Thorp reprocessing plant in 1977 to the Heathrow Fifth Terminal Inquiry in 1995-99, Lord Silsoe QC was renowned as an outstanding leading counsel for the promoters in major development inquiries - particularly those into airports and nuclear power projects.

Such inquiries, exploring in detail the wide range of topics relevant to the proposal, became of greater and greater length. Windscale had 100 hearing days. The Heathrow Fifth Terminal Inquiry, probably the last inquiry of this type that is likely to be held, lasted 525 days. Between these two, Silsoe had appeared for the promoters in a number of other such inquiries, including those into the Fourth Terminal at Heathrow and the North Terminal at Gatwick and the proposed nuclear power stations Sizewell B and Hinkley Point C.

Of great intellectual capacity and with unflagging powers of concentration, Silsoe was able to absorb technical detail and marshal it without ever losing perspective. His mastery of the subject matter was combined with a style of advocacy - fair, courteous, meticulously prepared - that made him formidable.

Because of his modest manner, many witnesses and advocates at first seriously underestimated him, but they always revised their assessments eventually (although sometimes only when it was too late). He was not the advocate for clients who wanted blood on the carpet, but, as the Central Electricity Generating Board were the first to discover when he was a junior in the 1960s, he was ideal for mighty organisations with projects that aroused passionate opposition.

David Silsoe was born in 1930, the elder twin son of Malcolm Trustram Eve QC (Chairman of the War Damage Commission and the Central Land Board and later First Church Estates Commissioner), who was created in 1943 a baronet and in 1963 the first Baron Silsoe.

After Winchester and Christ Church, Oxford, he was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1955 and joined his father's old chambers at 2 Mitre Court Buildings at a time when their traditional local government and parliamentary work was being superseded by the growth in planning. Bespectacled and wiry, he was in his younger days an excellent skier and he got fit for each holiday by hopping upstairs, two at a time, to his room on the third floor of chambers, overtaking bemused clients on the way. He took silk in 1972 with a practice that consisted mainly of planning work in addition to rating and compensation cases in the Lands Tribunal.

There is a "team" in any public inquiry - counsel, solicitors, the experts and their assistants - and in the major public inquiries the promoter's team was expanded to include all the administrative staff needed to sustain the operation. Accommodated in the same hotel, this team became his weekday family, or, perhaps more accurately, his house at school. To many he gave nicknames and then referred to them only by these.

In the evenings he worked in the communal office-cum-workroom at the hotel rather than in his own room, his intense concentration punctuated frequently with the banter and laughter that were always a part of him. This was his Wykehamist mugging hall, the house study room. He was accessible to all. In the early hours of the morning cleaning staff would make a point of visiting him in order to be cheered up for the day. (On one occasion late one evening, when preparing an important cross-examination for the next day, he spent half an hour counselling the night caretaker on the psychological problems of his dog.)

Opinions and notes were written on the reverse side of used pieces of paper. The looping schoolboy hand covered every square millimetre of the page. There were no margins and there was no space for corrections - but corrections were never needed, even the most complex matters being expressed first time in English of unaffected clarity and correctness. He spurned the use of a calculator, and pages could be covered with a single long division sum to establish a particular statistical conclusion.

During a major inquiry he would work unceasingly (except at weekends, which he reserved for his family), in any location and in any position - cross-legged on the floor surrounded by mountains of paper, or screwed up in the back of a car, trying to focus on a document in the headlights of the car behind. Away from work, singing succeeded skiing as his main delight, both with local choirs and for over 30 years in the church at Peppard, near Henley, to which he rendered selfless service.

A man of extreme modesty, David Silsoe had a natural affection for the self-effacing, the lowly and the disadvantaged, and this was matched by a distaste for all that seemed pompous, pretentious, bullying and grand. He hated formal occasions. More significantly, he came to feel less and less at ease in the world of courts and judges and benchers. Due to the influence of his father, who was so unlike him in this respect, he became Bar Auditor of the Inner Temple and, through this, a bencher before he was 40. But the development of his practice in the field of major inquiries led him, to the regret of many, to distance himself from the courts and the inn also.

Had he not done so, he could have become an outstanding appellate judge. That, however, would have been at the expense of the work that he relished and the very substantial force for good, both in the public arena and at a personal level, that he became.

George Bartlett

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