Obituary: Professor Herbert Hart

Herbert Lionel Adolphus Hart, lawyer, born 18 July 1907, practised Chancery Bar 1932-40, Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy New College Oxford 1945-52, Professor of Jurisprudence Oxford University 1952- 68, Fellow University College Oxford 1952-68, Delegate Oxford University Press 1960-74, FBA 1962, Member Monopolies Commission 1967-73, Principal Brasenose College Oxford 1973-78, QC 1984, books include Causation in the Law (with AM Honore) 1959, The Concept of Law 1961, The Morality of the Criminal Law 1965, Punishment and Responsibility 1968, Essays on Bentham: jurisprudence and political theory 1982, married 1941 Jenifer Williams (three sons, one daughter), died Oxford 18 December 1992.

HERBERT HART had an exceptionally sharp as well as powerful mind which he applied with equal success to classical scholarship, to the theory and practice of law, and to philosophy.

The width of his knowledge in all these spheres and in English literature never ceased to impress his friends and colleagues; and with all these gifts he included in his working life a long spell at the Bar, the wartime Civil Service, and teaching at Oxford which embraced a professorship and headship of Brasenose College. In his political philosophy he remained, in the broadest sense, a consistent social democrat throughout his life. As a friend he was loyal, straightforward, and consistently modest, though he had much to be immodest about.

Coming from Bradford Grammar School to New College, Oxford, in 1926, Hart took the classical Greats of those days easily in his stride, largely concealing at first his outstandingly ordered mind behind an apparent chaotic roomful of books, journals, learned German tomes and illegible manuscripts. He was lavish in his help to his colleagues, several of whom achieved higher classes than they would otherwise have done without him. But his own First was the best in an exceptionally good year.

After 10 years at the Chancery Bar (where he was never fully happy in giving tax advice to those who could afford it) the wartime government very wisely recruited him into the intelligence services. Standards were high in those days; and not merely did no whisper of wartime secrets escape him in six years, but his closest friends had no idea what he was doing. Only 30 years later did they learn that he made a major contribution to the 'false' D-Day plan which successfully deceived the Nazi Command in 1994.

With the end of the war New College persuaded him to return to his real love, philosophy, as a fellow and tutor there, and in particular a leading authority on Jeremy Bentham whom he much admired. In 1961 the Oxford University Press published his major work The Concept of Law, which became an intellectual classic, and 30 years later had sold 100,000 copies world-wide. Other works included Law Liberty and Morality (1963) and essays on Bentham and legal issues. Hart was successively Professor of Jurisprudence and, from 1973 to 1978, Principal of Brasenose. He had also in the 1960s helped to reform Oxford University's constitution with an attempt at undergraduate representation in the machine. Outside Oxford he gave some years of valuable service on the Monopolies Commission.

Hart will be remembered by close friends and colleagues as one who was always several steps ahead in his knowledge and even more steps ahead in the argument. Those who knew him best had the feeling that, if he disagreed with one, then one must be wrong. He was as quick, but also as good-humoured, in pouncing on the slightest misquotation from Gibbon or Shakespeare as on a legal error. He was universally respected, and his death will be profoundly regretted both within Oxford University and outside.

(Photograph omitted)

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star