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
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

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?