Obituary: Sir James Miskin

James William Miskin, lawyer: born 11 March 1925; Sub-Lieutenant, RNVR 1943-46; Called to Bar, Inner Temple 1951, Bencher 1976; member, Bar Council 1964-67, 1970-73; Deputy Chairman, Hertfordshire Quarter Sessions 1968-71; Recorder of Crown Court 1972-75; Appeals Steward, British Boxing Board of Control 1972-75; Recorder of London 1975-90; Chairman, Inner London Probation After Care Committee, 1979-88; married 1951 Mollie Milne (two sons, two daughters; marriage dissolved), 1980 Sheila Collet; died 21 November 1993.

ON THE EVE of his retirement, in July 1990, after 15 years as Recorder of London, James Miskin became involved in the biggest controversy of a career which had as the years passed, become increasingly fraught with unfortunate incidents. In an interview on BBC TV's Newsroom South-East he described the decision to quash the conviction of the Guildford Four as 'mad' and postulated that there was a 'live risk' that the IRA had bribed a young policeman to 'cook up' documents which would ensure their freedom. The next day, amidst howls of protest over his comments, he apologised, saying he had not intended to suggest that Gerry Conlon or the others were guilty.

Miskin was born in 1925, and educated at Haileybury, where he boxed, and at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he was Senior Heath Harrison Exhibitioner. From 1943 to 1946 he served as a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve.

He was called to the Bar in 1951, joining the South Eastern circuit and the chambers of the future Lord Simon of Glaisdale where, as was the practice at the time, he learnt his craft taking undefended divorce cases for a guinea a piece. He was persuaded by Desmond Ackner, later Lord Ackner, who is said to have noted his ability in the unlikely environs of the Dartford County Court, to join chambers at 4 Pump Court, in the Temple. There Miskin developed a substantial practice in both family work and medical negligence. He took silk in 1967 when he had served three years on the Bar Council. Although principally in civil chambers, he became deputy chairman of the Hertfordshire Quarter Sessions in 1968, a position he held for three years, and then he became a Recorder of the Crown Court in 1973.

In 1975 Miskin was something of a surprise appointment as the Recorder of London, succeeding the much-loved Sir Carl Aarvold. Perhaps his appointment was due to the recommendation of Mr Justice Melford Stevenson who saw in Miskin the polished after-dinner speaker needed to play the role as the second voice, after the Lord Mayor, of the City of London. Miskin did not take office immediately; instead he concluded the Thalidomide case in which he acted for the plaintiffs in their action against Distillers.

Once known for his beautiful speaking voice, he became increasingly hoarse, and was referred to as 'Whispering Jim'. Miskin was something of a connoisseur's judge. He could be sharp with the less able counsel who appeared before him. More seriously, at a time when consistent sentencing was being sought more and more by both the Court of Appeal and the public, Miskin could vary markedly in the punishment he handed down. His bark could also be worse than his bite. Sentencing a stepfather for indecent assault he called for longer sentences in such cases, described the man's behaviour as revolting, but then imprisoned him for what was seen as a lenient six years.

He was continually at loggerheads with the administration, attacking the Treasury's failure to fund prison expansion and he did not receive his knighthood on appointment as was customary, waiting instead until 1983. The case load and administration of the Central Criminal Court, as well as the heavy social side of his appointment, took toll of him.

He became increasingly controversial, calling for the minimum age of jurors to be raised to 25, and the return of capital punishment for premeditated murder. At a Mansion House dinner in 1989, he referred to a black man as 'a nig-nog' and spoke of 'murderous Sikhs' - at a time when he was trying a case involving members of the ethnic minorities. The matter led to criticism by the Court of Appeal.

Miskin is a sad example of the truth of Mark Antony's words that 'the good is oft interred with their bones'. He will be most remembered not for the excellent work he did - particularly in the early part of his tenure as the Recorder during which he was described by a senior Old Bailey practitioner as 'courteous, witty, kind and helpful to advocates'; as a member of the Bar Council and as chairman of the committee into the status of women at the Bar; for his work as an Appeal Steward of the British Boxing Board of Control; or as chairman of the Board of Discipline at the London School of Economics: but for his increasingly wayward behaviour as ill-health overtook him. In his later years he suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk