Obituary: Professor Laurence Gower

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Laurence Cecil Bartlett Gower, solicitor: born 29 December 1913; Sir Ernest Cassel Professor of Commercial Law, London University 1948- 52; Visiting Professor, Law School of Harvard University 1954-55; Professor and Dean of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos 1962-65; Law Commissioner 1965-71; FBA 1965; Vice-Chancellor, Southampton University 1971-79; married 1939 Peggy Shepperson (two sons, one daughter); died London 25 December 1997.

On the occasion of the award of one of Laurence Gower's many honorary degrees, the Orator at the ceremony remarked that he foresaw Gower becoming to Company Law what Gray is to Anatomy. "Jim" Gower produced his seminal treatise The Principles of Modern Company Law in 1954. It has continued through several editions, acquiring co-authors on the way; it also had the unusual distinction for a living author of being regularly quoted in court.

Gower read Law at University College London, where he gained a first in his LLB in 1933; he obtained his LLM in 1934 and was admitted as a solicitor in 1937. During the Second World War he first joined the Royal Artillery as a private and served under Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who always referred to him as "Gunner Gower". Later in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps he became involved in planning the D-Day landings at the Operations Centre at Wilton House in Wiltshire.

Following his war service he developed a special interest in legal education and lectured at his old college from 1948 when, at the youthful age of 35, he was appointed the Sir Ernest Cassel Professor of Commercial Law in London University. Whilst holding the chair at University College, he spent a year as a Visiting Professor at Harvard and throughout the 1950s demonstrated his keen interest in the status of law teachers by acting as honorary secretary of the Society of Public Teachers of Law.

Turning his attention to the problems of the emerging independent African countries, Gower went for three years from 1962, with the backing of the Gulbenkian Foundation, as adviser to the Nigerian Council and took a post as Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Lagos. There he fiercely upheld the independence of the university from government interference which later resulted in his being sacked for his temerity. His legend lives on in Nigeria, where he set up the professional Law School of Lagos, and in Ghana, where he drew up the Ghana Company Law Code.

Returning to Britain in 1965, he took up an appointment in the newly constituted Law Commission for the Reform of English law and worked on the Ormrod Committee on Legal Education.

In 1971 he was appointed as Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University, which he guided from the outset with a sure and steady hand on the helm but also with a remarkably open and accessible style. His tall angular figure, pipe in hand, was a familiar sight holding informal court at the bar of the Senior Common Room.

During his eight years at the university he promoted and presided over many major developments at a time of increasing financial stringency. There was a significant increase in student numbers, the expansion of the new Medical School, the provision of special residential facilities for disabled students and the opportunity for the first time for all freshers to be accommodated in university accommodation.

During his Vice-Chancellorship he served on Harold Wilson's Royal Commission on the Press, and following his retirement in 1979 he undertook a considerable four-year task when he was called in by the Department of Trade to provide advice to the Government on financial services, effectively a one-man commission. His work was embodied in the 1986 Financial Services Act.