Sir Edward Gardner

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Edward Lucas Gardner, lawyer and politician: born Preston, Lancashire 10 May 1912; called to the Bar, Gray's Inn 1947; MP (Conservative) for Billericay 1959-66, for South Fylde 1970-83, for Fylde 1983-87; QC 1960; PPS to the Attorney General 1962-63; Chairman, Justice Working Party on Bail and Remands in Custody 1966; Chairman, Bar Council Committee on Parliamentary Privilege 1967; Recorder of the Crown Court 1972-85; Chairman, Society of Conservative Lawyers 1975-85; Steward, British Boxing Board of Control 1975-84; Kt 1983; Chairman, Select Committee on Home Affairs 1984-87; married 1950 Nina Collins (one son, one daughter; marriage dissolved 1962), 1963 Joan Belcher (died 1999; one son, one daughter); died Bishop's Stortford, Hertfordshire 22 August 2001.

At a time when European human-rights legislation has become something of a bête noire to the right, the death of Sir Edward Gardner reminds us that it was once seen as a bastion against a centralising socialist state.

Shortly before he stepped down from Parliament in 1987, he introduced a Private Member's Bill seeking to incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into English law. Although he had some distinguished supporters on both sides of the House and backing from Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, he was unable to secure sufficient cross-party support to see his Bill into law.

Gardner came late to his profession, but he was a distinguished QC and a Recorder of the Crown Court from 1972 to 1985, and contributed much to the reform of the law. His broken service in Parliament probably cost him appointment as one of the law officers in the Heath government, but he completed his parliamentary career with a three-year term as Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. He was knighted in 1983.

His major contribution to the law is perhaps to be found in the British Nationality Act 1981. While the Conservative Party was still in opposition, he was asked by Willie Whitelaw to chair a study group to provide advice on changes to the nationality laws. Their report was published in 1980 under the title Who Do We Think We Are? and their threefold definition of nationality formed the basis for the Government's legislation.

Although Gardner's views tended to the right – he opposed homosexual law reform and was an advocate of restoring the death penalty and longer prison terms for violent offenders – he was, like so many Conservatives of his generation, hard to pigeonhole. He campaigned also for easier bail, greater use of community sentencing and an end to "slopping out" in prisons. He was a leading member of the Society of Conservative Lawyers, chairman of its executive committee from 1969 to 1975 and Chairman, 1975-85. Under his guidance the society produced a steady flow of influential pamphlets on suggested changes to the criminal law. He chaired the committees that produced Rough Justice, a statement on the future of the law, in 1968, Crisis in Crime and Punishment (1971) and The Proper Use of Prisons (1978).

He had already written A Case for Trial (1966) with Mark Carlisle. They recommended changes in committal proceedings which were incorporated in the 1967 Criminal Justice Act. Earlier he had served on the Departmental Committee on Jury Service, in 1963, and in the following year on the Committee on Appeals in Criminal Cases. One of his long-standing campaigns was for victims to have the right of appeal when they thought sentences insufficiently severe. He also chaired the Justice Working Party on Bail and Remands in Custody and subsequently became a member of that body's executive committee. In 1967 he chaired the Bar Council Committee on Parliamentary Privilege.

Edward Gardner was born in Preston in 1912, the son of a businessman, and was educated at Hutton Grammar School. He joined the Lancashire Daily Post and was subsequently taken on by the Daily Mail. He would boast that he was the only MP who could take shorthand at 200 words a minute.

In 1940 he enlisted as an ordinary seaman, but was subsequently commissioned. He survived the sinking of the cruiser Fiji during the evacuation of Crete and the loss of HMS Coventry off Tobruk in September 1942. In the latter part of the Second World War his journalistic skills were put to good use in the Far East, where he was appointed Chief of Naval Information, East Indies with the rank of Commander RNVR.

He spent the next four years freelancing as a journalist and broadcaster before being called to the Bar by Gray's Inn in 1949. Almost 20 years later, in 1968, he was elected Master of the Bench.

Bent on a parliamentary career, he fought the new seat of Erith and Crayford in the 1955 election and lost. He was then adopted for the Conservative-held seat of Billericay in place of Richard Body. Elected in 1959, he was immediately asked to second the motion in reply to the loyal address and in 1962 was appointed PPS to the Attorney General, Sir John Hobson.

In opposition after 1964 he was elected Vice-Chairman of the Conservative backbench committee on Home Affairs and in 1965 was elected to the Executive of the 1922. It was a savage blow to a promising parliamentary career when he lost Billericay by 1,642 votes in March 1966 despite polling more than 38,000 votes. Demographic growth had greatly increased the size of his electorate and altered its character.

Gardner had taken silk in 1960 and was subsequently admitted to the Nigerian and British Guianan bars: he also appeared in the courts of Goa, the High Court of Singapore and the Supreme Court of India, besides having an extensive practice in England. In 1961 he was appointed Deputy Chairman of Quarter Sessions in East Kent; he took on the same role in the County of Kent a year later and in Essex in 1968, holding all three appointments until 1971. He became a Recorder of the Crown Court in 1972 and served until 1985.

By then he had resumed his political career. He was adopted for South Fylde in 1968 and held the seat (it became Fylde after boundary changes in 1983) from 1970 until he retired in 1987. From 1972 he chaired the Conservative backbench committee on home affairs and in 1984 took the chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. He was the driving force behind the 1985 report warning that Britain was about to be overwhelmed by problems of drug addiction. Another influential report recommended that private companies should not only be contracted to build prisons, but to run them also.

A much younger colleague, Kenneth Clarke, recalls him as "the kind of man who if you saw him enter the Garrick Club you would feel inclined to join him". Mark Carlisle (now Lord Carlisle of Bucklow), who worked with him on more than one committee in those very active years at the Society of Conservative Lawyers, remembers him as "an attractive advocate with a good all-round practice, convivial and well liked on both sides of the House". He was very much the old-style legal politician, but one who took the House seriously. Good-looking and something of an orator, Gardner made a considerable impression when he spoke in debate and was a fine platform speaker. He had a good legal mind and developed his arguments persuasively.

Initially ambitious and hard- working, he was well respected by his colleagues, who found it difficult to explain why he had not gone further in his political career. He was relaxed about it, however, and clearly enjoyed life as an influential backbencher.

John Barnes