Obituary: Frank Streeten

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The Independent Online
Frank Streeten rendered outstanding service to English law and made statute law revision an art form. Except for a short period as Secretary, he served in the Law Commission's statute law revision team, from 1978 as its leader, for 26 years. His meticulous legal scholarship and his sensitive understanding of English social and political history made him well fitted to this task. Five massive Statute Law (Repeals) Acts were prepared under his leadership or at his direction.

He was born Reginald Hawkins Streeten, though he was always known as Frank, into a legal family background in Bloemfontein, South Africa, in 1928. His first degree, at Rhodes University College, Grahamstown, was in English and Classics, and he then obtained an external LLB while working as registrar to a high court judge in Cape Province.

In Streeten's view, however, South Africa in 1952 was no place for someone of English descent, and he took a job as Crown Counsel in southern Rhodesia. In 1953 he was seconded to the office of the Attorney General of the ill- starred Central African Federation. His principal skills were as a legislative draftsman and when the Federation collapsed in 1963 he became a parliamentary draftsman in Zambia, where for three years he had the task of simplifying the country's laws.

But Streeten saw no future for himself or his family in Africa and in 1967 he came to London to look for a job. It was England's good fortune that he spotted an advertisement for a vacancy at the newly founded Law Commission when he was enquiring about settling in British Columbia. For it was at the Law Commission, and in the field of statute law revision, that Streeten came into his own.

Repealing outworn Acts of Parliament is not an exercise to be taken on by anyone wantonly or unadvisedly. Indeed, the first time I met Streeten, we were concerned to reinstate a 1777 act which had been repealed by mistake. Connoisseurs of this unusual art form will find his imaginative solution in Section 2 of the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1993.

In 1993, one of my first jobs as chairman of the Law Commission was to sign Streeten's last report. I did so with pride. The report recommended the repeal, in whole or in part, of over 600 Acts which had been "identified, after detailed research and consultation, as being spent, obsolete, unnecessary or otherwise not now of practical utility". The 1677 Act which set up a judicial inquiry into "the late dreadful fire in Southwark" went that year, as did most of the Servants' Characters Act of 1792. These tests of uselessness were the tests Streeten perfected. And perfectionism in research and consultation was his watchword. I sometimes wish that some of our parliamentary masters might learn from his techniques.

His love of literature, too, was never far away. An 1887 repeal gave him the opportunity to revisit Thackeray's description of Colonel Rawdon Crawley's sojourn into a spongeing house in Vanity Fair. And at the final demise of the Beerhouse Act 1830, he quoted Sydney Smith's letter to John Murray: "The new Beer Bill has begun its operation. Everybody is drunk . . . The sovereign people are in a beastly state."

Nobody has more richly deserved appointment as CBE, which he received in 1991. When he retired in 1993, the Law Commissioners spoke of "a remarkable, perhaps unique period of public service devoted to the simplification of the statute book". Looking back on it now, I am sure it was indeed unique.

Henry Brooke

Reginald Hawkins (Frank) Streeten, barrister: born Bloemfontein, South Africa 19 March 1928; Crown Counsel and Legal Draftsman, South Rhodesia and Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland 1952-63; called to the Bar, South Rhodesia 1959; Parliamentary Draughtsman, Zambia 1964-66; Member of Legal Staff, Law Commission 1967-93, Head of Statute Law Revision, Law Commission 1978-93, Secretary 1981-82; CBE 1991; Legal Consultant to the Home Office 1994-96; married 1962 Bodile Westergren (two sons); died 4 April 1997.