Obituary: Sir Basil Nield

Basil Nield personified Shakespeare's view that a man in his life plays many parts. In Nield's case, with great distinction, he pursued the roles of lawyer, churchman, politician, soldier and bon viveur.

He and his twin sister, Beryl, were the youngest of five children born to Charles Edwin Nield, a solicitor, JP and Registrar of the Liverpool High Court. Their mother was an MBE and PhD - the first female graduate ever to obtain a doctorate at St Andrews University.

Nield was educated at Harrow (where he served as a governor, 1961-71) and Magdalen College, Oxford, during which time he became chairman of the Chester Conservative Association. In 1925 at the age of 22 he was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple and entered chambers in Liverpool, where he practised in general common law, on the Northern Circuit. His meticulous preparation, the quality of his advocacy and his unfailing courtesy made it obvious that he was destined for success at the Bar, and his practice grew. He then entered the chambers of David Maxwell Fyfe (later Lord Kilmuir and a Tory Lord Chancellor). He and his wife Sylvia became his closest friends.

In 1938, foreseeing correctly the implications of the Munich crisis, he joined the Officers' Emergency Reserve. Meanwhile, in 1940 he entered the House of Commons as Conservative Member for Chester. The same year he was commissioned into a captain's rank, and served successively as major, GHQ Middle Eastern Force (MEF) and, in 1942, as President, Palestine Military Courts, Jerusalem, and on the HQ staffs of East Africa Force, Eritrea and the Eighth Army, Persia and Iraq, and of the Second Army through the Low Countries and on the Rhine. He was mentioned in despatches when serving as Deputy Judge Advocate General in the MEF. His service in these roles was recognised by a MBE (mil) and his advancement to lieutenant colonel as Judge Advocate, sitting in on the courts martial in Germany.

He was returned to the Commons in the 1945 general election despite the Labour landslide. Coincidentally, he applied for and took Silk. He now ran his political and legal lives in parallel. As the Member for Chester he successfully sponsored what for him was a landmark: a Private Member's Bill, leading to the Adoption of Children Act, 1949. He saw it as the precursor to a state of affairs in which in matters of inheritance and succession an adopted child would be in a position similar to that of a natural child.

Nield was among the most dapper of the Members. Five foot seven and shiningly shod, his penetrating brown eyes missed nothing. A provocative and witty speaker and a great debunker of pomposity, Nield was popular both in the Commons and his constituency.

In 1948 he served as Recorder of Salford and, in 1952, was elected Master of the Bench of the Inner Temple. His advancement to CBE took place in 1956, at which time, too, he was chosen as the first permanent judge of the Crown Court, Manchester. This meant that he had to leave the House of Commons; a change which exhilarated him, though he missed the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate.

Such was the accuracy of Nield's judgments that it was rare for a sentence of his to be altered on appeal. Always humanitarian, however, in his dealings, he is on record as having modified one of his own sentences. After thinking all weekend about a prison sentence he had imposed, he had the man brought back into court from the cells. He told him that he might have been too severe and he reduced the sentence.

Always assiduous in his work as a judge, nevertheless Nield had an eye for the lighter side of life, in and out of court. This was the genesis of his book Farewell to the Assizes (1972), a series of entertaining memoirs illustrated by his own line- drawings and photographs. It marked too his singular achievement as the only judge to have sat in all 61 Assize towns in England and Wales before the abolition of the Assize system in 1972.

It was appropriate that the graceful dedication of the book should be to his twin sister, a mayor of Chester, to whom he was extremely close and who, like him, never married. She helped him a great deal when he was an MP and often sat beside him on the Bench. Her death, 20 years ago, was a heavy blow to him.

Forever restless, Nield loved to travel. He was a great "collector" of cities all over the world. A keen and accomplished photographer, he used his beautiful pictures to illustrate his Christmas cards, which were much prized among his friends.

Equally prized were his birthday and Christmas parties in his flat in the Temple. There, his sparkle and charm were let free among his great variety of friends. There too he achieved one of the honours he prized above all: Treasurer of the Inner Temple.

His last years were spent in the King Edward VII Convalescent Home for Officers, at Osborne House in the Isle of Wight.

Avril Mollison

Basil Edward Nield, judge and politician: born 7 May 1903; called to the Bar, Inner Temple 1925, Master of the Bench 1952, Reader 1976, Treasurer 1977; MP (Conservative) City of Chester 1940-56; MBE (mil) 1943, CBE 1956; KC 1945; Recorder of Salford 1948-56; Recorder and first permanent Judge of Crown Court at Manchester 1956-60; Kt 1957; Judge of High Court of Justice, Queen's Bench Division 1960-78; died 4 December 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: One of the world's leading suppliers and manuf...

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Day In a Page

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch