Obituary: Judge Norman Brodrick

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The Independent Online
Norman John Lee Brodrick, judge, born 4 Feburary 1912, Member Western Circuit 1935, Recorder of Penzance 1957-59, of Bridgwater 1959-62, of Plymouth 1962-64, Portsmouth 1964-67, Chairman Departmental Committee on Death Certification and Coroners 1965-71, married 1940 Ruth Unwin (three sons, one daughter), died 27 June 1992.

THERE HE sat patiently, a great bear of a judge, curious, engaging, good-humoured and calm. Effortlessly in command of his court. Always interested, relaxed and full of common sense. Utterly fair. For many, Norman Brodrick was the best judge on the Western Circuit of his generation. For some of us, the best tribunal we have ever addressed.

Above all, Brodrick was a Western Circuiter. It was the centre of his professional life, so much so that he had made it a condition of his appointment as a Judge of the Central Criminal Court in 1967 that he could return. So, happily, his last 11 years as a judge were spent in Portsmouth, Winchester and the Isle of Wight. The Leader of the Circuit once said: 'If anyone wants to know how to do the job of a judge, until he retired, you had only to go into the court of His Honour Judge Norman Brodrick.'

It was in his blood. The son of a celebrated Metropolitan Magistrate, William Brodrick, he was educated at Charterhouse and Merton College, Oxford. He proudly told us at his 80th-birthday Circuit dinner that Brodricks had been in law and members of the Western Circuit for three generations and nearly a hundred years.

Lincoln's Inn called him to the Bar and 30 years later in 1965 elected him a Bencher. His pupil master was Joshua Caswell and he found his first Chambers in Mitre Court.

When war broke out he served in the Ministry of Economic Warfare and was concerned with the German Enigma Coding Machine, acquired secretly and used to decode the most crucial German intelligence. Later he joined the chambers of James McMillan, the happy stable of his professional career. There, with a brilliant blind clerk, Charles Humphreys, he prospered on his Circuit and also in London, where he made frequent visits to the General Medical Council.

Overlapping his practice and later sittings was the Brodrick Committee. In 1965, he began to chair the Departmental Committee on Coroners and Certification of Death. It was published in 1971: a landmark report, even if not implemented in full measure. It sought to abolish the somewhat arbitrary power of an inquest jury to name those it considered had carried out the gravest crimes. In some cases, it recommended that a jury should not be required at all. It is an enduring tribute to a deeply conscientious and careful man.

In chambers, his kindness and robust sense of humour made him highly popular. As a pupil, he contributed to the ultimate success of Woolmington - a young farm labourer convicted of murdering his wife - by raising several points that proved to be crucial. After the dismissal of Woolmington's appeal, the case went to the House of Lords, where a conviction for murder was finally overturned. In 1960 he took the silk and found himself in the Lords, seeking to overturn the conviction for murder of Arthur Albert Jones, who had lost the shield provided by the Criminal Evidence Act 1898. The appeal failed, but the case established Brodrick's reputation in legal circles.

There is no better indication of the humanity and common sense of Norman Brodrick than his opening at Salisbury before a packed court in 1966. A small group of well-intentioned young men had organised a protest against the filming of Doctor Dolittle in the beautiful village of Castle Combe, and the film company who sought to divert the river running through the village. The protesters had called out ambulances and fire engines and a tip-off to the police led to the discovery that they were in possession of explosives. But it was a madcap protest, which Brodrick described as 'gross thoughtlessness and irresponsibility rather than wickedness'. This was the language of moderation, which allowed proper mitigation to have its effect.

He served his profession with equal distinction on the Bar Council and the Senate of the Four Inns of Court.

Circuit appointments ran apace: Recorder of Penzance, Bridgwater, Plymouth and Portsmouth; Deputy Chairman of Hampshire Quarter Sessions and Chairman in the Isle of Wight. For seven years, from 1960, he was Chairman of the Wessex region Mental Health Tribunal. Then, to the surprise of many, he went to the Old Bailey. Hardnosed criminal practitioners there remember Brodrick with great affection as a fair and compassionate judge. But the Circuit drew him back to his own, where in time he had served as Wine Treasurer. He was home.

A devoted family man, Norman Brodrick married in 1940 Ruth Unwin, daughter of the publisher Sir Stanley Unwin. It was an idyllic marriage. They had three sons (including Judge Michael Brodrick, sitting now on the Circuit), as well as a daughter. In retirement, Norman and Ruth created a magnificent garden in Rogate. Always interested in the work of the Probation Service, his chairmanship of the Hampshire Care Trust continued and the Association of Parish Councils gained a valuable honorary legal adviser.

Days before his death, Norman Brodrick was enjoying champagne and smoked salmon. He left us in style, to the strains of Nimrod played by his grandson Robert at a magnificently conducted Thanksgiving Service. An English end to a great and lovable man.

(Photograph omitted)