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Encyclopedia > Tom Denning, Baron Denning

The Right Honourable Alfred Thompson Denning, Baron Denning, OM, PC (23 January 18995 March 1999) was a British barrister from Hampshire who became Master of the Rolls (the senior civil judge in the Court of Appeal of England and Wales) and was generally well liked, both within the legal profession and outside it. Lord Denning was a judge for 38 years, retiring at the age of 83 in 1982. The Right Honourable (abbreviated The Rt Hon. ... For other Orders see Order of Merit (disambiguation). ... Her Majestys Most Honourable Privy Council is a body of advisors to the British Sovereign. ... January 23 is the 23rd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. ... 1899 (MDCCCXCIX) was a common year starting on Sunday (see link for calendar). ... March 5 is the 64th day of the year in the Gregorian Calendar (65th in leap years). ... 1999 (MCMXCIX) was a common year starting on Friday, and was designated the International Year of Older Persons by the United Nations. ... A barrister (advocate in Scotland and the Channel Islands, barrister-at-law in Ireland and elsewhere) is a lawyer found in some Common law jurisdictions who principally, but not exclusively, represents litigants as their advocate before the courts of that jurisdiction. ... Hampshire (abbr. ... The Master of the Rolls is the third most senior judge of England, the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain traditionally being first and the Lord Chief Justice second. ... A judge or justice is an official who presides over a court. ... Her Majestys Court of Appeal is the second most senior court in the English legal system (with only the judges of the House of Lords above it). ... 1982 (MCMLXXXII) is a common year starting on Friday of the Gregorian calendar. ...


Early history

Born in Whitchurch in Hampshire, Denning was the fourth of five sons of Charles Denning and his wife Clara. Denning's father was a draper. His mother had been a school teacher. He was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford, after which he taught mathematics at Winchester College before returning to study law at Magdalen, where he was later made an honorary fellow. He trained at Lincoln's Inn, and was later a bencher of the Inn (by 1982, he had been made an honorary bencher of both Gray's Inn and the Middle Temple). He was called to the English bar in 1923, and was appointed a High Court judge and knighted in 1944. Only four years later he was appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal as well as a Privy Counsellor, and in 1957 he became a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary with a life peerage as Baron Denning, of Whitchurch in the County of Southampton. He also served as Master of the Rolls from 1962 to 1982, later receiving the Order of Merit in 1997 in recognition of his distinguished career. He first married in 1932. His wife Mary died nine years later. He remarried in 1945 to Joan, who died in 1992. Location There are several places called Whitchurch in England. ... Hampshire (abbr. ... College name Magdalen College Named after Mary Magdalene Established 1458 Sister College Magdalene College President Professor David Clary FRS JCR President Iain Anstess Undergraduates 395 Graduates 230 Homepage Boatclub Magdalen College (pronounced ) is one of the constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. ... Winchester College is a public school in the city of Winchester in Hampshire, in the south of England. ... Part of Lincolns Inn drawn by Thomas Shepherd c. ... In England and Wales, barristers (i. ... Her Majestys High Court of Justice (usually known more simply as the High Court) is, together with the Crown Court and the Court of Appeal, part of the Supreme Court of England and Wales: see Courts of England and Wales. ... The dignity of Knight Bachelor is a part of the British honours system. ... Her Majestys Court of Appeal is the second most senior court in the English legal system (with only the judges of the House of Lords above it). ... This article concerns the British Sovereigns Privy Council. ... Lords of Appeal in Ordinary are Life peers entrusted since the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876 with carrying out the judicial functions of the House of Lords. ... The County of Southampton could be the City and County of Southampton in Hampshire, England Hampshire itself (previously also known as Southamptonshire) This is a disambiguation page — a navigational aid which lists other pages that might otherwise share the same title. ... The Master of the Rolls is the third most senior judge of England, the Lord Chancellor of Great Britain traditionally being first and the Lord Chief Justice second. ... For other Orders see Order of Merit (disambiguation). ...

He became well known for his judgments, which frequently pushed the law in novel directions. The world renowned High Trees case: Central London Property Trust Ltd v. High Trees House Ltd [1947] K.B. 130 was a milestone in English contract law, and made Denning's name early on in his career as an innovator in legal reasoning. The case founded the doctrine of equitable estoppel or 'promissory estoppel'. However, Denning's doctrine has been criticised by legal academics, who argue that he paid little regard to the existing law, and that the doctrine is the result of his attempt to find a resolution that equated to his personal notion of 'justice'. A judgment or judgement (see spelling note below), in a legal context, is synonymous with the formal decision made by a court following a lawsuit. ... Central London Property Trust Ltd. ... A contract is any promise or set of promises made by one party to another for the breach of which the law provides a remedy. ... Case-based reasoning (CBR), broadly construed, is the process of solving new problems based on the solutions of similar past problems. ... Estoppel is a concept that prevents a party from acting in a certain way because it is not equitable to do so. ...

Legal career

Denning spent twenty years as the Master of the Rolls, presiding over the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal, after five years as a Law Lord, shifting to the Court of Appeal at his request because he was happier with that post than one in the more senior court. Court of Appeal judges sit in threes, and the Lords in fives (or more), so it was suggested that to get his way in the Court of Appeal Denning only had to persuade one other judge whereas in the House of Lords it was at least two. The other 'benefit' of the Court of Appeal is that it hears more cases than the House of Lords, and so has a greater effect on the law. During his 20 years as Master of the Rolls, he could choose both which cases he heard, and the judges with whom he sat. Therefore, on most issues, he effectively had the last word; comparatively few cases went on to the House of Lords, Britain's highest court of law. The House of Lords, in addition to having a legislative function, has a judicial function as a court of last resort within the United Kingdom. ... This article is about the British House of Lords. ...

In 1963, Denning was appointed by then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to look into the role of the police and security services in the Profumo affair. [1] However, much of his report was devoted to an investigation of Stephen Ward, a man who Denning alleged to cater for others' "perverted tastes". [2] However, Ward was a relatively minor player in the affair — his only relation to it was introducing then Secretary of State for War John Profumo to Christine Keeler, whom the latter became intimately involved with. [3] Conspiracy theorists have insinuated that Denning was involved in a cover-up to protect members of the establishment — allegedly including members of the royal family — from being pinned as the culprits. [4] The Right Honourable Maurice Harold Macmillan, 1st Earl of Stockton, OM, PC (10 February 1894–29 December 1986), nicknamed Supermac and Mac the Knife, was a British Conservative politician and Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1957 to 1963. ... The Profumo Affair was a political scandal of 1963 in the United Kingdom. ... Dr Stephen Ward ( - 3 August 1963), the son of Canon Arthur Evelyn Ward, Canon of Rochester Cathedral, was a fashionable London osteopath and talented portrait artist. ... Baron John Dennis Profumo, CBE (January 30, 1915-March 10, 2006), often called Jack Profumo, was the British Conservative Party cabinet minister whose indiscretions effectively discredited the government in 1963, before its defeat in 1964. ... Lewis Morleys photoshoot was one of the most iconic of the 1960s. ...

Of his move down the legal hierarchy, Denning quipped, "To most lawyers on the bench, the House of Lords is like heaven. You want to get there someday — but not while there is any life in you". The last sitting British judge not bound by a mandatory retirement age, he was forced to retire after remarks interpreted as racially insensitive though generally understood not to have indicated such feelings. Schematic of court system for England and Wales The United Kingdom does not have a single unified judicial system - England and Wales have one system, Scotland another, and Northern Ireland a third. ... A mandatory retirement age is the age at which persons who hold certain jobs or offices are required by statute to step down, or retire. ...

Denning's 1982 book What Next in the Law was his downfall. In it, he seemed to suggest some members of the black community were unsuitable to serve on juries, and that immigrant groups may have had different moral standards to native Englishmen. His remarks followed a trial over a riot in Bristol. Two jurors on the case threatened to sue him, although some scholars have pointed out that his attitudes were not far out of line with opinions in the right-wing press of the day, and may have been taken out of proportion somewhat. Nonetheless, Lord Denning was forced to back down and avoided further conflict by apologising. He then announced he would be retiring. Later editions of the book assert Denning's commitment to representative juries and diversity.


Whatever the truth of it, Lord Denning became immensely popular for his judgments which often bent the law into interesting directions, and his unusual prose style in giving judgment:

'The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the Crown. It may be frail - its roof may shake - the wind may blow through it - the storm may enter - the rain may enter - but the King of England cannot enter - all his force dares not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement.' So be it - unless he has justification by law.: Southam v Smout [1964] 1 QB 308 at 320

One of Denning's most influential decisions in torts was his well articulated opinion regarding relational economic loss in Spartan Steel & Alloys, Ltd. v. Martin & Co., [1972] 3 All E.R. 557 (C.A.). While his fellow judges, Lawton LJ (concurring) and Edmund Davies LJ(dissenting), based their rulings on stare decisis and general tort principles (respectively) Denning based his judgment on a thorough analysis of relevant policy factors.

A notorious judgment was that in the appeal of the Birmingham Six in 1979. Denning's view was that The Birmingham Six were Hugh Callaghan, Patrick Hill, Gerard Hunter, Richard McIlkenny, William Power and John Walker. ...

"If the six men win, it will mean that the police are guilty of perjury, that they are guilty of violence and threats, that the confessions were invented and improperly admitted in evidence and the convictions were erroneous... This is such an appalling vista that every sensible person in the land would say that it cannot be right that these actions should go any further." [1]

He also commented that "We shouldn't have all these campaigns to get the Birmingham Six released if they'd been hanged. They'd have been forgotten and the whole community would have been satisfied." The men's convictions were overturned in 1991 after it was shown that the police had indeed done all the things Denning described, and he admitted that the West Midlands police force had "let us all down" [2]. The West Midlands refers to western area of The Midlands (central England). ...

Death and legacy

Many of Denning's efforts to change the law were vindicated by the passage of time (and legislation) — in particular, his efforts to establish an abandoned wives' equity, small print exemption clauses, inequality of bargaining power, negligent mis-statement, liability of public authorities, and contractual interpretation. It has been suggested that Statutory law be merged into this article or section. ... This article is about concept of equity in Anglo-American jurisprudence. ... Small print refers to the practice of including necessary legal terms or phrases in small writing on commercial or contractual documents. ... A contract is a promise or an agreement that is enforced or recognised by the law. ...

Denning died a few months after his 100th birthday, the celebrations for which he was too frail to attend. At the event, Law Society President Michael Matthews said, "He was a towering figure in the law who made an enormous contribution to the law of this century, probably the major contribution". Eulogising Denning's death, a former Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone, said that Denning would go down in history as "one of the great and controversial judges of the 20th century". The Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain, or Lord Chancellor and in former times the Chancellor of England and the Lord Chancellor of Scotland, is one of the most senior and important functionaries in the government of the United Kingdom, and its predecessor states. ... The Right Honourable Quintin McGarel Hogg, Baron Hailsham of St Marylebone, KG, CH, PC (October 9, 1907–October 12, 2001), formerly 2nd Viscount Hailsham (1950–1963), was a British Conservative politician. ...

The University of Buckingham's Law School organised a Symposium whereby each of the major area of law that Tom has had a profound influence on was discussed and debated. Each topic of discussion was chaired by someone with experience in that scope. E.g. The Rt. Hon. Lord Nolan on Public Inquiries. (Other Chairmen included Lords Woolf, Slynn). Afterwards the Law School's Law Society organised a Charity Dinner in which many of the guest speakers and attendees of the Symposium attended. The guest speaker was the then Vice-Chancellor of the Supreme Court, The Rt. Hon. Sir Richard Scott, now Lord Scott of Foscote, a Law Lord. The University of Buckingham is the UKs first and only private university, founded as the University College of Buckingham in 1976, before becoming a university in 1983. ...

Lord Denning is more than simply a learned and gifted jurist. His judgments are sharp, pithy, and full of mischief. His gift for combining prose with legal reasoning is unmatched. This is why he is loved by Common Law students the world over. Even the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, acknowledges that Denning was always her favourite jurist when she was in law school. Perhaps his most famous case was Miller v. Jackson (1977) Q.B. 966, 976, or as it is far better known, The Cricket Case: The Rt. ...

In summertime village cricket is the delight of everyone. Nearly every village has its own cricket field where the young men play and the old men watch. In the village of Lintz in County Durham they have their own ground, where they have played these last 70 years. They tend it well. The wicket area is well rolled and mown. The outfield is kept short . . . [y]et now after these 70 years a judge of the High Court has ordered that they must not play there any more . . . [h]e has done it at the instance of a newcomer who is no lover of cricket.

See also

Chronological list of cases in which Lord Denning sat as a judge. ...

Notes and references

  1. Picknett, Lynn, Prince, Clive, Prior, Stephen & Brydon, Robert (2002). War of the Windsors: A Century of Unconstitutional Monarchy, p. 241, 246. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 1-84018-631-3.
  2. Picknett, et al., p. 242.
  3. Picknett, et al., p. 240.
  4. Picknett, et al., p. 245.
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