Obituary: Sir Patrick Browne

Patrick Browne was first a lawyer, then a judge, in whom compassion for human misery and frailty and a sense of rectitude informed all he did. If he never allowed either to transcend his legal duty, both could be felt in his speech and manner, all the more so because he was the least self-conscious of men.

He was born in Cambridge, the son of Edward Browne, fellow of Pembroke College and author of A Year Among the Persians, one of the greatest orientalists this country has ever produced. His grandfather, Sir Benjamin Browne, was for many years head of Hawthorn, Leslie & Co, the Newcastle engineers and shipbuilders, and his grandson always felt his Northumbrian roots, and with them a Johnsonian view of the Scots. Edward Browne had married, at the age of 44, Alice Blackburne-Daniell, who transformed the contended life of a bachelor don to an even more happy family life at Firwood, the big house in the Trumpington Road where his son grew up.

All too soon it came to an end. In 1924, while Browne was still at Eton, his father had a severe heart attack; he was devotedly nursed by his wife, who died in August 1925, her husband only surviving for six months. Browne came up to Pembroke that autumn, but his father's many friends and his own made his Cambridge years happy. He took his degree in Law in 1929 and entered the Inner Temple, to begin the not too exacting practice of the law.

Among his father's Cambridge acquaintances was Sir Charles Walston, the classical archaeologist, who lived at Newton Hall, a large house built for him outside Cambridge. It was full of beautiful things, excavated by Walston or bought with the wealth his wife, Florence Seligman of New York, had brought him. There Browne met their daughter, Evelyn. She had one failing: Lady Walston used to say, "My daughter doesn't know how to come into a room properly." But she had every other virtue, a tender heart, and great beauty. They were married in 1931.

They set up house in Campden Hill Square, then on the outer confines of habitable London. The tall terrace seemed and sometimes felt as if it was slipping down the steep hill into Holland Park Avenue, but Evelyn's taste made the house glow with pretty furniture and furnishings (not so easy to find then). Together they filled it with books and drawings bought for nothing from the Squire Gallery. Infinitely kind, they entertained the poor and lonely, as well as a growing number of friends.

Browne's civil practice left him time to take an early interest in legal aid, and he was often at the Toynbee Hall Legal Centre. The Children and Young Persons Act (1933) had increased the social reach of the law, and Evelyn too worked for the COS (later the Family Welfare Association). In 1936 Browne's first publication came out: he helped Valentine Ball, master of the supreme court, bring out the second edition of The Law of Libel and Slander. More exotically, through Evelyn's American cousins they travelled widely in the United States, including Wyoming and Arizona, where English visitors were then rare.

With the Second World War, Browne joined the Royal Horse Artillery, and was engaged in planning air defence at the War Office, becoming a lieutenant- colonel (GSO1). On rare leave, he made the sometimes hazardous journey to visit a now growing family in the country. He was made OBE in 1945, and went back to work at the bar.

There his practice grew. He edited the second edition of Beaumont and Shawcross's Air Law, not then a common or extensive part of commercial work, but he came to specialise in rating, planning and parliamentary work.

Shortly after taking silk in 1960, Browne was obliged to represent the local authority when the London Library appealed against its rating re- assessment as a commercial body. To his horror, he won the case, and made amends to the Library, of which he had long been a member, by generous donations then and thereafter; happily, the decisions was reversed on appeal.

By then he was well past the age when he might have expected to become a judge, and had no expectation of it. But in 1964 Gerald Gardiner, who had become Lord Chancellor, sent for him and said that he proposed to promote him to the Bench. Browne protested that he had no experience of the criminal work that would come his way. "No," said Gardiner, "but you have compassion and that is more important than experience." So it proved. His innate fairness and gentle and unfailing courtesy to counsel and witnesses stood him in good stead, and the long absences on circuits, initially a strain, came to assuage the overwhelming grief of Evelyn's untimely death in 1966.

He was always very modest about his own merits and achievements. He was surprised as well as delighted when the Inner Temple made him a Bencher in 1962. He took endless pains with his judgments, conscientiously ensuring that every element of the case should be fairly presented. In 1974 he became a Lord Justice of Appeal, taking his modesty with him. In a patent case where he sat with two Chancery colleagues who disagreed, his judgement began: "I find myself, whose knowledge and experience in this field is minimal, in the unhappy position of having the deciding voice between experts."

Browne had always maintained his links with Cambridge, and was delighted to be made an Honorary Fellow of Pembroke College in 1975. In 1959 he had acquired Thriplow Bury, the beautiful house (not far from the Walstons at Newton) to which he retired in 1980. There his old age was spent, returning to his favourite old books, Shakespeare but also Surtees, Peacock and Johnson, as well as old Firwood favourites like H. Storer Clouston's The Lunatic at Large. Children and grandchildren came to delight him.

He was not tall but well-built; he inherited a fine head set square on his shoulders from his father, whom he increasingly came to resemble. His serious expression reflected a realistic, even pessimistic, view of human nature. But it could be irradiated by a smile so delightful and heart-warming, so revealing of an inner sweetness of character, that it - and he - can never be forgotten by all who knew him.

Patrick Reginald Evelyn Browne, judge: born Cambridge 28 May 1907; OBE 1945; Kt 1965; PC 1974; married 1931 Evelyn Walston (died 1966; two daughters), 1977 Lena Atkinson; died Thriplow, Hertfordshire 1 October 1996.

Suggested Topics
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

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis