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09 November 2023

Lord Igor Judge: A life of law and love

The Dickson Poon School of Law is greatly saddened to share the news of the death of our esteemed colleague, Lord Igor Judge.

Lord Judge

Lord Judge was the former Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales from 2008 to 2013, and a Distinguished Visitor and Visiting Professor at The Dickson Poon School of Law. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go to his friends and family.

Anna Loutfi, researcher and assistant to Lord Judge, has shared a touching tribute to his life and career.

Lord Igor Judge: A life of law and love

If Magna Carta, and everything it has meant to us, is to survive, it is no longer a question of luck. It is our responsibility to make it so.

Lord Igor Judge, The Safest Shield: Lectures, Speeches and Essays (2015)

Lord Igor Judge, who served as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales from 2008 to 2013, died on Tuesday 7 November 2023, aged 82.

Lord Judge was a Distinguished Visitor at The Dickson Poon School of Law and will be remembered most fondly and with great sadness, as the School digests the news of his recent passing. But foremost in our minds, in our grief, and as a legal community, we recall Lord Judge’s formidable legal reasoning matched only by his great compassion and humanity.

Lord Judge was a most agreeable and empathetic character, and – contrary to his professional standing and indeed his surname – he held a profoundly non-judgmental attitude to his fellow men and women in a way that has become quite unusual in our times.

Born to Raymond and Rosa née Micallef, in Malta, during a World War II bombing raid (an event frequently invoked by his Lordship as a sophisticated moral framing device for how he viewed the world), Lord Judge was a man completely dedicated to the law as an imperfect but valuable instrument by which all human beings, by virtue of their common humanity, might be heard in their times of need.

English common law to Lord Judge was above all a common property to be enjoyed by everyone. Common law encompasses the justice provisions that flowed from the Magna Carta, including but not confined to, the great writ of Habeas Corpus, as well as the relationship of tax to consent; and, of course, it has given us our sovereign Parliament.

When Lord Judge wrote in a series of 2015 essays (The Safest Shield) of the Magna Carta’s survival as a national responsibility, he was channelling the future in the same breath as he was calling on his readers to cherish the past. For Lord Judge, the Magna Carta was not a single historical document, as imperfect as any document must surely be (and of its own time and political geography): it was a set of beautiful ideas underpinning the legal state and its democratic constitutional principles, which he saw himself as tasked with protecting and preserving for posterity. For he did not regard ‘the rule of law’ as a durable system, but rather a fragile one; not an asset worthy of preservation because of its monetary value, but a set of principles that can never be purchased. Lord Judge felt it was his duty to try and protect the rule of law (not rule by law as he liked to distinguish it) from corrupt or potentially power-hungry leaders. He waged a lifelong campaign to warn all of us about so-called Henry VIII clauses: clauses in a bill that enable ministers to amend or repeal provisions in an Act of Parliament using secondary legislation, and clauses which give ministers potentially unlimited and unchecked forms of power. Lord Judge argued, at the Lord Mayor’s Annual Dinner in July 2010, that such clauses should be “confined to the dustbin of history”, earning him the admiration of human rights and legal advocacy groups such as Liberty.

I could write a book on this man and his legacy. Perhaps I should do so. But to conclude this short and barely fitting tribute to an extraordinary judicial titan, I would like to emphasise Lord Judge’s moral calibre, which shone through him as he spoke. He betrayed a refined appreciation of art, aesthetics, music, history and literature, which shaped his legal reasoning and the uncanny precision and beauty of his language – which was never dry, never dismissive, never self-indulgent, and always to the point.

In a seminar series Lord Judge held at the School for many years running, Contested Questions, Lord Judge liked his law students to grapple not with the technicalities of law, but with the moral dilemmas underpinning much legal reasoning. A woman infected with HIV by a positive partner who has not disclosed his status. A terrorist who might disclose life-saving information if extra-judicial methods ‘were applied’ to his interrogation (torture). What were the rights and wrongs of such scenarios? Are there absolutes? What does context and the individual circumstances of each case matter?

For Lord Judge, legal and moral vacuums opened up like huge and frightening chasms in humdrum and everyday legal cases all the time. He understood that judges pronounce moral positions even as they claim to stick to strictly legal ones. Assisted suicide, abortion, ambiguities around sexual consent – Lord Judge never shied away from controversial or difficult debates. Perhaps his fierce defence of the foundational democratic principle of a right to free expression – in particular the freedom of the press – arose from his nuanced understanding of how rarely life is a simple question of ‘right’ versus ‘wrong’. Lord Judge, the man and the lawyer, dealt in shades of grey his entire life. He respected the grey area. He understood the law as an imperfect means of navigating choppy, sometimes lethal, moral and political storms.

Lord Judge loved music maybe more than he loved law. I cannot say for certain. He would speak so passionately about the composer Sibelius, all of whose eight symphonies he seemed to know by each and every quaver, crotchet and minim – by the bar as it were. I cannot listen to Sibelius without thinking of him: not an easy composer to listen to, but a series of meditations on life as – again – shades of dark and light.

I cannot finish without mention of Lord Judge’s wife and soulmate, Lady Judith. She was never far from his thoughts and he referred to her wit and wisdom continually. She was a source of inspiration to him and without her he would not have become the man and mind that he did become. I hope it is my place to make this personal observation.

In any case it is public knowledge. If you pick up a copy of The Safest Shield, the dedication on the front leaf of the book speaks volumes about Lord Judge’s relationship with his wife. It also speaks to his decency, depth and capacity for connection with others.

“To Judith”, it reads: Sine Amore Nihil (Nothing without Love).

Rest in peace, you dear man and extraordinary public servant.

Anna Loutfi, researcher and assistant to Lord Igor Judge, The Dickson Poon School of Law (2017-2023)