'Modernising' judge to be new Master of Rolls

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The Independent Online
LORD JUSTICE Bingham, whose legal career has attracted loud praise and heavy criticism, was named yesterday as the next Master of the Rolls.

The 58-year-old judge will take over as head of the civil division of the Court of Appeal when Lord Donaldson, the present Master of the Rolls, retires on 30 September.

Last night, Lord Justice Bingham controversially called for the European Convention on Human Rights to be incorporated into British law - a move that has been opposed by the Government. 'It's sad people have to go to Brussels for justice,' he said on BBC Television when interviewed about his appointment.

Sir Thomas Bingham has a reputation as a modernising judge and is expected to press ahead with plans to speed up the processing of civil cases when he becomes the second most senior judge in the English judicial hierarchy, behind Lord Justice Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice.

He has spoken in favour of the abolition of lawyers' wigs in the civil courts and was the first judge to support government plans to break the barristers' monopoly by allowing solicitors to present cases in the higher courts. John Major chose Sir Thomas in preference to Lord Justice Woolf, a more liberal Appeal Court judge, who carried out the review of the prison system after the Strangeways riot.

Senior barristers said yesterday that 'no one knows Bingham very well'.

A colleague who worked with Sir Thomas when he started out in the law said: 'He always stood out as someone who would go far. It was obvious that he would become a very senior judge.'

His reputation was probably at its highest when he headed the exhaustive investigation into the breaking of sanctions against Rhodesia in 1977.

Although he remains highly regarded by many in government, he was criticised by lawyers and civil liberties groups outside the establishment for allowing himself to become involved in 'Kafkaesque justice' during the Gulf war.

In the middle of the conflict, he was made a member of the Home Office appointed advisory panel which secretly reviewed the cases of 90 Arabs who had been interned without trial on what later emerged to be unsubstantiated allegations that they had links with terrorism.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups criticised the hearings.

The panel denied suspects, who included internationally respected and moderate Palestinian intellectuals, the right to legal representation and refused to let them know what evidence was being used to justify deportation to a war zone.

Sir Thomas ordered the release of many of the Arabs whose cases he reviewed. But at the end of the war the Home Office cut the ground from under his feet by tacitly admitting that all the detainees were innocent and a gross mistake had been made. Ministers ordered the release without charge of all the Arabs and allowed them to stay in Britain.

He went on to head the inquiry into the collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International. This too was conducted in secret. The Bar Council criticised the treatment of the internees during the war, but welcomed Sir Thomas's promotion.

John Rowe QC, vice-chairman of the Bar, said: 'Lord Bingham is a man of very high intellectual ability and wide experience in civil work. Forward-looking, he is likely to bring innovation to civil justice.'

(Photograph omitted)

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