LCJ Lane and LCJ Widgery: A Comparison
This essay centres on the redeeming qualities in life which are not the attitudes of the one who doubts, but rather the conduct of he who makes undaunted the final sacrifice in the interests of our English people so long suffering.
Lord Chief Justice Geoffrey Lane AFC (1980-1992)
- and - John Passmore Widgery (Baron) Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales (1971-1980)
John Passmore Widgery was preceded by Lord Parker of Waddington who was Lord Chief from 1958 to 1971, in turn succeeding Lord Chief Justice Goddard who stood down in 1958. The successor to LCJ Widgery was Lord Chief Justice Geoffrey Lane. Of these most Senior Judges, all of whom presided in the Appeal Court for criminal cases and laid down the criminal law of our jurisdiction so judiciously and fairly, LCJ Widgery, LCJ Lane and LCJ Goddard have all been strongly criticised. Why?
Because these Lord Chiefs held the ropes for criminal justice to be administered as they honestly thought fit, and not in accordance with the hue and cry and public furore. I have already written in some detail on LCJ Goddard in my essay of 23 July 2015 and the Bentley Case he tried in 1952 which resulted in Bentley’s execution for murder.
2. Lord Chief Justice Geoffrey Lane
He took over in 1980 and was the butt of stinging rebukes for disallowing the Birmingham Six Appeals – one of the bombing atrocities. I am afraid the thinking has grown up that LCJ Geoffrey Lane who presided for six weeks during this last mentioned Appeal was prejudiced, one sided and too supportive of the police. On the contrary such Senior Judges in England & Wales do not fall into those traps. This Lord Chief Justice had good reason for refusing this Appeal in 1988. The course of justice resulted in the release of these accused admittedly, but LCJ Lane was a shrewd judge of the Appellants’ evidence in support of this Appeal in 1988.
I for my part stand by his decision to reject that Appeal that year. The case cannot be retried as I have said previously. The wiser result would have been release by the Home Secretary to protect our judges and these convictions.
3. The contrast in career of Lord Chief Justice Widgery to Lord Chief Justice Lane
The reason I digressed was that these two judges filled the superlative criminal legal position in our courts in the Strand – the Royal Courts of Justice. Widgery was made a High Court Judge (Queens Bench) in 1961 and Lane was appointed to the same Division of the High Court Bench in 1966. They were both Queens Counsel and in his Bar career, Widgery was in Town Planning whilst Lane had a mixed criminal and civil practice. Moreover, they both did very good war service in WWII. Geoffrey Lane was a Wellington Bomber pilot who received the Air Force Cross for his bravery in 1943 on bombing missions. Lane was made a Squadron Leader during his war service.
John Widgery was in the Royal Artillery in WWII and participated in the Normandy Landings. He joined the Territorial Army in 1938 in the Royal Engineers. He was awarded the OBE, the Croix de Guerre (France) and the Order of Leopold (Belgium) for his exemplary war service: 1939-45. He was in the senior rank of Brigadier at the end of the War. John Widgery was born in 1911 and Geoffrey Lane in 1918.
We are speaking of men who understood the meaning of courage at first hand. They knew what it was to command soldiers and airmen and did not fail in that duty. Both of them came under fire in that war and were fortunate to survive at all let alone uninjured. Such men know their duty not only in war but also in peace. They both faced extremely difficult and vexatious tasks in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry (1972) which LCJ Widgery conducted as Lord Chief, and the Birmingham Six Appeal in which LCJ Lane presided over in the Court of Appeal Criminal Division.
They were chosed for the role of Lord Chief Justice by Hailsham the Lord Chancellor, on account of their highly rated attributes, character and fearlessness. LCJ Widgery was undoubtedly exposed to potential terrorist attack by his decisions in the Bloody Sunday Inquiry at the height of the Troubles. With Geoffrey Lane the bitter anger of Irish Republicans and their supporters were visited upon him as Lord Chief Justice. LCJ Widgery was also rubbished for his redoubtable and entirely correct assessment of the violent disorder on the streets of the Bogside, Northern Ireland in January 1972.
Men of this calibre will not be seen again. The Second World War will not be repeated. Conscription and a worldwide conflict are simply unthinkable. What do I say? The character of the uncomplaining and generous of heart is of far greater value than those who insist on their rights. Truth can lie buried for decades, indeed the record may never be put right. It takes the spirit of resignation to accept that. Not every wrong will be put right, may be never. Let us have the charm of the English to accept that with the sanguine smile.
These two very Senior Judges accepted this philosophy of life and they did not demand to be found right. They set the proper example in their judicial careers and later. Did those whom they adjudged morally liable have the same spirit of acceptance? I am afraid not. They desired their pound of flesh and got it. What about the droplets of blood? They were shed even though the judge ruled in Shakespeare’s play there should be no drop of blood. These two judges did not shed any blood. We all know how that came about.
The last word? Always obey your judges be you rich or poor, strong or weak. Put the other person before yourself – be merciful. Like it or not these two judges had clemency in their veins for those to whom it mattered, namely the downtrodden. That is the mark of the Supreme and Eternal Judge: Christ Himself who will judge us all.