Letter: A toast to a lord of the law

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The Independent Online
Sir: Sunday 23 January marks the 95th birthday of the most innovative and influential judge of this century. As a distinguished Master of the Rolls for 20 years, he achieved a high level of popular acclaim and some academic disapproval. The law, in his opinion, is merely an instrument to ensure a just outcome. His approach personified judicial law-making.

It has been fashionable in recent years to portray him as someone rather eccentric and not always in full grasp of his senses. This utterly unfair portrayal was perhaps formed from a few unfortunate remarks made in advancing age, and ignores his enormous achievements in the law. He was the catalyst to reform in many areas. His decisions in family cases are just one area of his concern for justice. Without him, family law today might be more rigid and less sensitive. His efforts in relation to deserted wives provided relief until Parliament regularised the law by passing the Matrimonial Homes Act 1967.

Some academics are quick to jibe at what they say is a lack of intellectual vigour, often directed at his distaste for precedent. His approach was to find the way round a problem in order to do justice. Far from a lack of intellectual ability, his judgments displayed an exceptional talent for explaining technical points of law in plain English.

He has received criticism for apparently holding prejudices against certain sections of society. This is not surprising because, as he often championed the cause of the 'little man', he would sometimes upset a vested interest. When vested interests are threatened, they fight vigorously to defend their position. This may explain the criticism from the legal establishment, as his reforming approach did not accord with a non-activist profession.

Let us acknowledge his immense contribution to the law by wishing Lord Denning a happy birthday, unless this is over-ruled by the House of Lords.

Yours faithfully,

ANTHONY REEVES

Chippenham, Wiltshire

17 January

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