Lord Simon of Glaisdale

Conservative Solicitor General who resigned to become a judge - and eventually a Law Lord
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Jack Simon was the last of a breed of judges who first pursued a successful career in politics before promotion to the Bench. In Simon's case, it led via the presidency of the Probate Divorce and Admiralty Division (PDA) to a distinguished period, from 1971 until 1977, as a Law Lord. Thereafter, he played an active role as a crossbencher in parliamentary debates in the House of Lords until his last appearance to vote, in support of the Constitutional Reform Bill, in December 2004 at the age of 93.

Jocelyn Edward Salis Simon was born in Hampstead, London, in 1911, one of five sons of a stockbroker. He was educated at Gresham's School, Holt, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he was an Exhibitioner. He took a degree not in Law but in English: the study of literature, in which he was steeped, and the mechanics of language fascinated him throughout his life. His erudition was palpable in the measured prose of his judgments, which were replete with apt illustrations from works both classical and modern. In wry response to a husband's submission that his wife's shrewish conduct over the period of a long marriage should affect her right to maintenance, he once observed:

I am far from persuaded that domestic infelicity necessarily precludes worldly success - it may even rather stimulate it. Socrates achieved considerable influence, Xanthippe notwithstanding; Louis VII of France and Henry II of England each made a mark on their age, though they were married in succession to Eleanor of Aquitaine; the turmoil of Lord Coke's second marriage was a public scandal: and Dr Proudie achieved the bishopric of Barchester.

On going down from Cambridge, Simon himself married at the early age of 23, but his wife died tragically after only three years of marriage in the very year he was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple, where he was a Blackstone Prizeman.

He rapidly built a successful career as a junior in the leading divorce chambers of the day. However, this was cut short after five years by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, when he was commissioned into the Royal Tank Regiment and took part in the first major combined land and sea operation of the war in Madagascar, as the commander of a troop of three somewhat decrepit Valentine tanks.

In leading the advance against the Vichy French forces, his tanks were all crippled and his troop had to fight a dismounted action after their ammunition ran out. As prisoners of the French for 24 hours during which, as he liked to recall, they ate their best meal since the war began, his troops experienced a situation unique since the Napoleonic War. Simon was mentioned in dispatches for his bravery in the operation and was then posted to India, whence he took part in the Burma campaign, which included the crossing of the Imphal River. He ended the war as a lieutenant-colonel on the staff of 36th Division.

On return to the Bar, he re-established his practice, frequently acting as junior to Seymour Karminski KC, head of his chambers, a leader of the Divorce Bar. Upon Karminski's promotion to the Bench in 1951, Simon himself took silk. In the lead up to the general election of that year, he was unexpectedly offered the Conservative Party candidacy for the seat of Middlesbrough West, then held by the Labour Party. Having remarried in 1948, he fought a successful campaign assisted by his attractive wife Fay, then a secretary at the BBC, who helped him to win the seat by a narrow majority. As an assiduous constituency MP, he consistently increased that majority in two subsequent general elections.

His career in Parliament took off, despite his retaining a busy practice as a silk. He became Chairman of the Inns of Court Conservative and Unionists Association in the early 1950s, a period during which he was a key figure in developing the philosophy of the One Nation Group. A progressive Conservative intellectual and a strong libertarian, he enjoyed the high regard of Iain Macleod. He was part-author of three important, influential pamphlets during this period: Change is Our Ally (1954), Rule of Law (1955) and A Giant's Strength (1958), the precursor of later Conservative legislation to curb the growing powers of the trade unions. He also sat on the Royal Commission on the Law Relating to Mental Illness and Mental Deficiency (1954-57), being appointed by Macleod to push forward the idea that mental hospitals should support care in the community and admissions of mental patients should be largely voluntary.

In 1957, Simon was appointed to his first post in Whitehall as joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office, where he earned the affection and respect of the Home Secretary, "Rab" Butler, whilst steering the Homicide Act 1957 on to the statute book. He was promoted to Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1958, so impressing Bernard Levin (as "Taper" in The Spectator) that he was singled out as one of six MPs in the Commons who, regardless of party affiliation, were acknowledged to be an asset to the House.

Simon's political career seemed headed towards the Cabinet with his appointment in 1959 as Solicitor General, when Sir Reginald Manningham-Buller was Attorney General. He appeared in a number of important prosecutions and appeals. His reputation for fairness, wisdom and good sense, combined with energy, friendliness and unfailing courtesy, became firmly established.

It was something of a surprise to many when, in 1962, on the retirement of Lord Merriman as President of the PDA, Simon accepted appointment as his successor and apparently closed the door on a glittering political future. Unconfirmed family lore has it that he did so upon an assurance that the presidency would not prejudice his consideration for future appointment as Lord Chancellor, a role for which his scholarship, industry and reputation made him an ideal candidate.

As President, he was an instant success. Patient and meticulous, he was a pleasure to appear before and his judgments, elegant and learned, a pleasure to read. Despite his firm belief in the sanctity of marriage and his strong opposition to divorce by consent, he was humane and progressive in his application of the law.

In 1965, from a clear blue sky, Simon was dealt a blow which was to affect him physically for the next 40 years. Sudden symptoms of dizziness and imbalance revealed the growth of a benign tumour in his neck. Its surgical removal left him with paralysis to one side of his face, visual impairment in one eye, and slight slurring of speech, which gave rise to speculation that he had suffered a stroke. This was not so, as the continuing quality of his judgments attested. But it was permanently to impair the impression of vigour and physical strength which had previously characterised the man. It also led to a degree of pain and discomfort from residual sensation which lasted the rest of his life.

Yet, neither to his family nor to his wide circle of friends and admirers did one word of complaint or lamentation over his physical misfortune escape his lips. Nor were his qualities of patience or willingness to help others marred in any way by apparent fatigue or irritation. In this respect, as in all things, he was blessed with the lifelong devotion of his loving wife Fay and his three sons, the eldest of whom is now a High Court judge.

In 1971, Simon was promoted to the House of Lords as one of four outstanding appointments made by Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone: he, along with Lords Kilbrandon, Salmon and Cross, joined Lords Reid, Wilberforce and Diplock in a revitalised chamber during the 1970s. Thereafter, he contributed to many of the leading decisions, including the Sunday Times thalidomide appeal, and joined with Lord Scarman in a notable dissent in the Harriet Harman appeal. An expert in the canons of statutory construction, he deplored in retirement the decision in Pepper v Hart, which permitted resort to ministerial statements as a guide to statutory intention.

When he retired from sitting in the House of Lords, Simon's experience in the politico-legal field and his profound grasp of constitutional matters enabled him to play a respected role in debates in the Upper Chamber (for example on the passing of the Human Rights Bill) in which he spoke more frequently than other retired Law Lords. He was an ever-ready source of advice to fellow peers.

Perhaps the last word on this remarkable man should come from his own pen in the form of his ironic epitaph for a divorce judge, coined with a smile in his heyday as President:

Weep stranger as you pass this place,
For 'neath this stone a judge lies under,
Who now by just decree hath joined
All those whom God hath put asunder.

Mark Potter

There is a civilised custom, writes Tam Dalyell, by which members of the House of Lords who have previously served as members of the House of Commons can come into the Members' Cafeteria and Tea Room as a right. Lords who have not been MPs have no such privilege. For the last 30 years, into great old age and infirmity, with eye-patch and stick, Lord Simon of Glaisdale was a frequent visitor for his midday meal.

I got to know him through my friend Dr Jeremy Bray, who succeeded him as MP for Middlesbrough West. No predecessor of a different party could have been kinder to his successor and Bray formed a lifelong respect and friendship for Simon. This was partly because of Simon's genuine interest in the economic development and welfare of his previous constituents, particularly in the steel industry. Bray told me that Simon had been loved in Middlesbrough, even by those who did not vote for him.

Years later, in 1978-79, I came into a close working relationship with Simon, who was interested in the constitutional implications of the devolution proposals for Scotland and Wales. He would point me to those pages in Morley's Life of Gladstone which dealt with the problems of the ins and the outs in the context of Irish home rule. Along with his friends Lords Scarman, Diplock and Wilberforce, he played a prominent part in the debate and discussions on the eventually failed Scotland and Wales Bills.

In 1996 The Independent asked me to write the obituary of Lord Bancroft, former head of the Home Civil Service. In print I referred to "warlords such as Lord Ackner and Lord Simon of Glaisdale". I dropped Simon a note, explaining that the words dictated had been "Law Lords". He wrote back: "The friends of Desmond Ackner and myself would easily recognise us as warlords."

Jocelyn Edward Salis Simon, lawyer and politician: born London 15 January 1911; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1934; KC 1951; MP (Conservative) for Middlesbrough West 1951-62; Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office 1957-58; Financial Secretary to the Treasury 1958-59; Solicitor General 1959-62; Kt 1959; PC 1961; President, Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice 1962-71; created 1971 Baron Simon of Glaisdale; a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary 1971-77; married 1934 Gwendolen Helen Evans (died 1937), 1948 Fay Leicester (three sons); died London 7 May 2006.

Comments