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Obituary: Lord Scarman (1911 - 2004)


Sketch of Lord Scarman by Tom PhillipsIt is with great sadness that the University reports the death of Lord Scarman, the University’s second Chancellor (1977 – 1989). The Right Honorable Lord Leslie George Scarman P.C., OBE, died aged 93 on Wednesday 8 December.

Prior to becoming the University’s Chancellor upon the death of founding Chancellor Lord Radcliffe, the University conferred the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws on him in 1974. At the time the Honorary Degrees Committee said:

“Lord Scarman’s intellectual eminence is beyond doubt, his early career in particular being a most distinguished academic one. He has always shown a keen interest in universities, and has been at the forefront of efforts to build bridges of mutual understanding between them and the legal profession.”

During his Chancellorship this assessment proved itself to be more than true.

In obituaries today Lord Scarman has been described as ‘one of the finest lawyers of the post-war era’ and ‘one of the best-known judges in Britain’.

Leslie George Scarman was born on 29th July 1911 in South London. As a child Scarman went to Radley School later moving on to Brasenose College, Oxford where he achieved a double first.

He joined the Middle Temple on his admission to the Bar in 1936, took silk in 1957 and four years later was appointed a High Court Judge of the Justice, Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division (later the Family Division). In 1973 he went to the Court of Appeal and became a Law Lord in 1977.

He was best known for his work on commissions to look into public and social disorder: Northern Ireland (1969), the Red Lion Square riot (1974), the Grunwick dispute (1977) and the Brixton Riots (1981).

A longstanding campaigner for human rights, Lord Scarman said at one of his last public appearances in 1996 that he hoped to live long enough to see the Human Rights Convention become law in Britain. The Convention became law four years ago.

The Scarman Trust, a national charity committed to helping citizens bring about change in their community, was founded by Lord Scarman in 1991. His public enquiries played a key role in making the government listen to its citizens. The Trust was set up to continue that 'bottom up' approach to democracy and was rooted in the constitutional reform movement. Lord Scarman was its first chair and guiding inspiration.

The University’s portrait of Lord Scarman is framed by Thomas Jefferson’s words:

“I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.’

The University would like to express its condolences to Lord Scarman’s wife Ruth Wright and the couple’s son.