I have been in the law for 50 years and a judge for more than 25. Quite enough for anyone, you may think. But it has been a wonderful career.
I am very pleased to see here many people who have played special parts in my legal career; I am sorry I can only mention a few. I am particularly delighted to see Edward Cazalet, who as my pupil master in 1969 really started me off. He was a perfect role model and kind enough to believe that I could perhaps make it at the Bar and beyond.
I must also mention George Dobry QC, sadly no longer with us. He took me under his wing when I went into Planning Chambers in 1970 and became my mentor and friend, until his death two years ago.
Another early influence was Derry Irvine (not well enough to come today, but I want to send him my best wishes). I first met him as his research assistant at the LSE in 1968 and became a great admirer. I did not know then that he would, in due course, become one of the outstanding Lord Chancellors of our age. I was very lucky to have had his support at every stage and the privilege of working with him.
I was very sad to hear that Andrew Leggatt died just two weeks ago. He was the author of the seminal report on the Tribunal System, which led to the reform programme implemented under the 2007 Act. My time as the first Senior President of Tribunals was one of the most rewarding phases of my career. It seems particularly appropriate that Andrew’s son George (Master Leggatt) has been appointed to step into my shoes in the Supreme Court.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to Lord Mackay, happily here in robust form. It was he who in 1994, as Lord Chancellor, persuaded me that I had better make the career jump to the judiciary then, before they brought the judicial retirement age down from 75 to 70 the following year. It turned out to be very good advice.
Most important of course has been the support at every stage of my wife, Bambina. As James Mackay may remember from my swearing- in ceremony, she was not over the moon about my becoming a judge. As she put it, ‘she did not want to be married to un Vecchio Parruccone’ – loosely translated ‘an old bigwig’. Well, bigwig or not, she has stuck with me every step of the way. I could not have done any of it without her.
One of the things I shall miss most about the court, apart of course from the people, is my room; one of the best in London, with a splendid view looking across to Parliament and Big Ben, and down on statues of Lincoln, Gandhi and Mandela.
I have been fortunate that my eight years in the Supreme Court have coincided with the development of a remarkable new institution and some very high-profile cases. 15 years ago, I was no great fan of the idea of a new Supreme Court, or of the proposal to put it in the Middlesex Guildhall; as Charlie Falconer (also here today) never ceases to remind me. Indeed, in an article in 2004. I described the proposal as an unnecessary and expensive luxury.
I was quite wrong. Subsequent events have shown it to be a very necessary, probably inevitable development. I also think that the location and the building, after its superb conversion, could hardly be improved on. It is a wonderful building to work in. One of the things I shall miss most about the court, apart of course from the people, is my room; one of the best in London, with a splendid view looking across to Parliament and Big Ben, and down on statues of Lincoln, Gandhi and Mandela. I pay tribute to all those involved in that achievement.
I am also lucky to have served under three remarkable Presidents: Nicholas, David, Brenda – each with their own distinctive qualities, which I will not attempt to describe. I have every confidence that you, Robert, will carry on that great tradition.
They have been supported by our highly skilled and loyal staff, led by two strong Chief Executives, Jenny Rowe and Mark Ormerod, and our redoubtable Registrar, Louise di Mambro, one of the real powers behind the scene. A special tribute also to my devoted clerks or personal assistants, John and Lorraine at the RCJ, and in this court, Carmen, Isabel, and now Daniel, who as well as his other duties has managed today’s event with skill and great sensitivity.
This is not a day for controversy, but before I end I cannot resist a brief comment on recent suggestions that appointments to the court should come under some sort of political scrutiny. Quite apart from the principle, there are serious practical difficulties. You need to know what qualities you are looking for.
First, we are not like the American Supreme Court. Very few of our cases have any real political content. Variety is the keynote and one of the main fascinations. Take my first and last cases in this court. They could not be more different, or more esoteric. Eight years ago my first ever case in the Supreme Court was a Privy Council appeal from the Cook Islands in the Pacific. It involved a long-running dispute between two extended Maori families, about traditional property rights. The dispute had been going on for 100 years. I hope our decision helped to heal the rift.
Contrast my last case, which we are hearing yesterday and today. It is about business rates, and how they apply to ATM cash machines in supermarkets. Not every one’s cup of tea, but rating happens to have been a special interest of mine. It is very suitable as my last case not least because all four leading counsel are from my old chambers, Landmark.
So how are you going to politically vet for those sort of cases? Perhaps the most important quality you should be looking for is versatility.
Secondly, even if you concentrate on the more political cases, it is easy for observers to get things wrong. Take the first Miller/Brexit case. Before the hearing, one well-known newspaper carried out an individual assessment of the justices, in attempt to identify Europhiles, most likely it was thought, to ‘thwart the will of the majority on Brexit’. We were graded on a scale of one to five. I, along with Lord Reed, was identified as a five-star Europhile, partly because of our links with various European judicial associations, but more curiously in my case, because I was said to be ‘an acclaimed viola player and lover of European culture’. I certainly plead guilty to the latter. The former is more debatable.
Anyway, I am afraid their predictions were not very accurate. Both Robert and I gave dissenting judgments supporting the government’s position. At that point our suspect Euro-credentials were forgotten, and we were hailed by the same paper as Champions of the People. I hate to disappoint readers of that paper, but, believe it or not, I had supported the government, not because I felt myself to be championing the will of the people, but because I thought their arguments were right in law. Just as in the second Miller case, three years later, I voted against the government, because I thought their arguments were wrong.
Fortunately in the second case there was very little attention to us as individuals. All the focus was on our glamorous President and her brooch. However, I was very proud to be linked to that judgment. Whatever its political effect in this country, which seems to have been limited, I have no doubt that it did much to cement the standing of this court, and more importantly the reputation of this country as a world leader in the promotion and protection of the rule of law. That is one of our most important and precious assets.
So, I leave the court with a great sense of pride and gratitude. I hope to spend more time after retirement on what is still the biggest challenge facing us all, that of climate change. But for the rest of the day it is back to rating of ATM machines. Thank you.