Obituary: Bernard Simons

Anthony Burton,David Walsh
Friday 04 June 1993 23:02
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Bernard Simons, lawyer: born Leicester 23 March 1941; died Madrid 29 May 1993.

The untimely death of Bernard Simons at the age of 52 leaves a gap in the legal world that cannot be filled. For a quarter of a century his career as one of Britain's leading civil and criminal lawyers saw him first lay the foundations of and then nurture a successful firm in which, from the beginning, he established the principle that no client should be turned away. His courageous approach led to a practice of great diversity which was instantly reflected in the unlikely combination of clients to be found in Simons Muirhead & Burton's waiting rooms.

Simons was a pioneer among radical lawyers, never afraid to take on even the most unpopular cause of the time. He detested injustice. His proactive, innovative, persistent but always measured style guaranteed his clients the certainty that the judicial system would be tested to its limits. Lawyers have to listen but few are good listeners. Bernard Simons possessed that rare ability. Whatever the time of day he always had time; however bleak the future appeared at the beginning of an interview his client would leave reassured by his quiet yet committed voice. He was infinitely adaptable, whether sitting in an all- night cafe after 15 hours in a police station, or at a glittering first night at the National Theatre.

His achievements were legion, ranging from the 'political' cases of the 1970s such as the Angry Brigade and ABC trials, causes celebres including the trial of Howard Marks and Operation Julie, and miscarriages of justice such as the Confait case. In recent years he was able to turn his commercial and criminal law expertise to the intricacies of serious fraud. Such was his flexibility that he also established a successful media law practice serving many of his friends in the theatre, literary and television world.

In the last two years of his life, his work took on a wider international dimension. Apart from his long-standing commitment to the prisoners on Death Row in the Caribbean (evidenced by his highly praised programme on the Privy Council transmitted on BBC 2 just days before his death), he acted for the government of Angola and made a vital contribution to the International Bar Association as the Vice-Chair of the Criminal Law Committee. Earlier this year he had travelled to Latvia to advise on the establishment of a legal aid system.

Having been President of the London Criminal Courts Solicitors Association last year, he continued to be an active committee member. He was a former executive member of the National Council of Civil Liberties (now Liberty), founding trustee of Release and an active supporter of the Society of Labour Lawyers. He was one of the few solicitor judges in the Crown Court.

Simons's love of life encompassed a passion for the arts, in particular opera and the theatre. He was so honoured to have been appointed a director of the National Theatre to which he gave much of his time serving on key committees.

(Photograph omitted)

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