Sir David Calcutt

Barrister in favour of controls on the press
Click to follow
The Independent Online

David Charles Calcutt, barrister: born 2 November 1930; called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1955, Bencher 1981, Treasurer 1998; Chancellor of the Dioceses of Exeter and of Bristol 1971-2004, and in Europe (formerly Gibraltor in Europe) 1983-2004; QC 1972; a Recorder 1972-89; a Judge of the Courts of Appeal of Jersey and Guernsey 1978-2000; Chairman, Civil Service Arbitration Tribunal 1979-94; Chairman of the Bar 1984-85; Master, Magdalene College, Cambridge 1986-94; President, Lloyds of London Appeal Tribunal 1987-97; Chairman, Committee on Privacy and Related Matters 1989-90; Chairman, City Panel on Takeovers and Mergers 1989-2000; Assessor of Compensation for Miscarriages of Justice, Home Office 1989-2001, Ministry of Defence 1993-2004; conducted Review of Press Self- Regulation 1992-93; Gresham Professor of Law 1992-95; Chairman, Council of the Banking Ombudsman 1994-2001; Kt 1991; married 1969 Barbara Walker; died Porlock, Somerset 11 August 2004.

The barrister David Calcutt was a single-minded and devoted servant of the state whose industry was prodigious. His search for excellence was beyond compare, his determination was formidable, and his simple humanity was frequently unrecognised. He served as chairman of numerous government inquiries and tribunals, but was perhaps best known for his recommendations for statutory controls of the press following the Review of Press Self-Regulation in 1993.

Calcutt was born in 1930, the only son of a local pharmacist in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. His education was formed by his love of music; he possessed a fine voice, was a chorister at Christ Church, Oxford and won a music scholarship at Cranleigh School. He went on to King's College, Cambridge, where he was a choral scholar and read successfully for two degrees at the same time: music and law.

His Third in the Law Tripos was sometimes remarked upon in later years, when he was Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, by undergraduates he was encouraging to aim high in class lists. It might have been regarded by some Cambridge dons as evidence of a lack of scholarly qualities; if so they could not have been more wrong. David Calcutt had every scholarly instinct; in his approach to any problem his research was careful and thorough; he abominated the thought that he would get something wrong through lack of investigation. He did the work, and usually got the right answer; in this, he was also gifted in his judgement, which many lack.

When he started at the Bar in his mid twenties, he was immediately recognised as a high flyer; he acquired a busy practice in London and on the Western Circuit. In those days - the mid 1950s - work at the Bar was scarce and it was usual to find an additional way of earning money. Calcutt became a supernumerary law reporter and a reporter for the Times Law Reports. He subsequently became editor of the Times Law Reports.

Anyone who observed him at Printing House Square, genially and humorously negotiating with compositors to get as much of his Law Reports into the paper as he could, would be totally amazed at suggestions made in subsequent years that he dwelt in an ivory tower.

As an advocate Calcutt was a force which was often irresistible. His fine voice, the lack of artifice in his arguments and the straightforward common sense of his manner and presentation was much appreciated by juries and judges alike.

He took silk in 1972 and went from strength to strength. His first loves were music and the Bar. At the Bar he went out of his way to help his younger colleagues; when Head of Chambers (1976-88) he was always seeking ways and means to do good for the members and chambers as a whole. In those days, his chambers (then at Lamb Building, subsequently 35 Essex Street and now Outer Temple Chamber) were much smaller than they are today. Athenian democracy was beginning to make an appearance; but he had no committees; he ran it all himself with great devotion and efficiency. He was undoubtedly a despot but as benevolent a despot as one could find.

When he retired as Head of Chambers, one member was heard to remark that for David, "L'état, c'est moi". His successor was somewhat nervous of being "le deluge", but all was well ordered and in place.

In 1983, David Calcutt was elected Deputy Chairman of the Bar and in 1984, Chairman. He had, since 1970, held judicial office first as a Deputy Chairman of Somerset Quarter Sessions and then as a Recorder of the Crown Court from 1972 to 1989; he was a judge of the Courts of Appeal of Jersey and Guernsey from 1978; he was chancellor of various dioceses and a member of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

At the end of Calcutt's year as Chairman of the Bar, many thought that he would become a High Court judge. But he knew it was not his métier. His life with Barbara, whom he married in 1969, was far too precious to both of them for either of them to endure the separations which are a judge's lot when out in circuit. Instead he took on the mastership of Magdalene College, Cambridge and a very fine mastership it was.

In 1938 Betjeman wrote, "The ease of life of a Head of House usually leads to longevity". For many years no such ease of life has existed: a Head of House scarcely has a moment to himself. He has to try to raise huge sums of money; he has to look after the college, its Fellows, undergraduates, servants and all its business. He has to entertain and be entertained to the great danger of his digestion. His life is not his own. David and Barbara Calcutt made a success of his mastership because they were indefatigable in every aspect of college life (Barbara among many other things was patron of the boat club).

Their priority was the undergraduates. As Calcutt often commented, "It's the kids who matter here; they come first". For a childless couple their sympathy with and understanding of young people was truly remarkable and their keen interest in all the concerns and doings of the young was very touching. It was during his mastership that women were first admitted to Magdalene.

Calcutt retired as Master in 1994. Since 1989 he had been Chairman of the City Panel on Takeovers and Mergers; from 1987 he was President of the Lloyds of London Appeal Tribunal; since 1986 a member of the Interception of Communication Tribunal; since 1989 Assessor of Compensation for Miscarriages of Justice, Home Office (assessing the compensation for, among others, the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six); and he held numerous other arbitral and judicial appointments. He conducted government enquiries into a hospital fire in the Falkland Islands, in 1984, and into the Cyprus Service Police, 1985-86.

In 1989 he was appointed Chairman of the Committee on Privacy and Related Matters. At the time several MPs had been pressing for laws to protect privacy. In David Mellor's words, the press were "drinking in the Last Chance Saloon". Although many of his recommendations, including one to make intrusion a criminal offence, were not implemented, Calcutt's proposal to replace the Press Council with a new regulatory body was accepted. The Press Complaints Commission was set up in 1991.

Eighteen months later, he was asked to make of review of the progress of press self-regulation. His report to Parliament in 1993 was damning.

The Press Complaints Commission is not, in my view, an effective regulator of the press. It does not, in my view, hold the balance

fairly between the press and the individual . . . As constituted, it is, in essence, a body set up by the industry, financed by the industry, dominated by the industry, and operating a code of practice devised by the industry and which is over-favourable to the industry.

His recommendation was for a statutory tribunal with wide legal powers.

The press were naturally hostile and critical. They did not believe he had the right background for the task. They saw him as an Establishment figure in an ivory tower, remote from the living and concerns of ordinary people. In fact, Calcutt always had the common touch and he was not deterred by the antagonism he had aroused. Despite their hostility, the press respected him and the critisms they voiced, although vigorous, never went beyond what was reasonable and acceptable.

For most of us holding down just one or two of the jobs done by David Calcutt would be quite enough. Yet he was able to do so many so well and at the same time. The secret was a gift very few of us are given. He could simplify a problem so that everything appeared to be, and in fact was, obvious; he stated the pros and cons in simple straightforward terms. His mind, like his desk, was free from clutter; throughout his whole life his desk never had more than one file on it at one time. His intellect and his duty drove him ever onwards.

To one who did not know him it might appear that work was his life and he had no other. This would be a very serious misconception. His music, his country life, his friends, his fondness for jokes and laughter and his keen sense of the ridiculous made him an engaging and delightful companion and friend. During his late years he was afflicted with Parkinson's disease which often made physical movement and effort very difficult. He endured it all with great good humour; and his intellect and geniality remained with him always.

Alan Rawley

Comments