Nigel Bridge, Baron Bridge of Harwich

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Nigel Cyprian Bridge, Baron Bridge of Harwich, PC (26 February 1917 – 20 November 2007) was one of the leading British barristers and judges of the late 20th Century. He served as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, writing the opinion in famous cases such as The Queen v. Secretary of State for Transport, ex parte Factortame and Caparo v. Dickman, but is best known for his role as presiding judge in the infamous Birmingham Six miscarriage of justice, especially his closing remarks where he regretted his inability to hang those convicted, although they were exonerated 16 years later.

Early and private life[edit]

Bridge's father was Commander Cyprian Bridge of the Royal Navy. His mother was the daughter of a cotton manufacturer from Lancashire. His parents separated shortly after his birth and he never knew his father. Bridge followed his elder brother, Antony Bridge, to Marlborough College, winning a scholarship. His brother was later a painter before becoming a Church of England priest and latterly Dean of Guildford Cathedral.

Bridge left Marlborough aged 17, and spent time in Europe, where he learned French and German. He worked as a journalist on regional newspapers in Lancashire, and wrote an unpublished novel. He volunteered to join the Fleet Air Arm before the Second World War broke out, but was rejected as being colour blind. He was conscripted into the British Army in 1940, serving in the King's Royal Rifle Corps and reaching the rank of Captain before being demobilised in 1946. He married Margaret Swinbank, daughter of Leonard Heseltine Swinbank in 1944. They had three children, two daughters and one son. His wife died in 2006.

Legal career[edit]

Bridge was called to the Bar at Inner Temple in 1947, having achieved the first place in that year's bar exams. He became a pupil of Martin Jukes, and then practised as a Barrister-at-Law at 3 Temple Gardens from 1950, in the chambers headed by Lord Widgery, undertaking mainly personal injury work, but also town and country planning and local government law. He was made a Bencher at Inner Temple in 1964. He was later Reader in 1986 and Treasurer in 1986.

From 1964 to 1968, he was Junior Counsel to the Treasury in Common Law (also known as "Treasury Devil"), as a sure route to the bench. He became a High Court Judge in 1968, joining the Queen's Bench Division, and was knighted. He was Presiding Judge of the Western Circuit from 1972 to 1974.

Bridge was the presiding judge at the trial of the Birmingham six, who were accused of bombings in Birmingham in November 1974. In his last case before he joined the Court of Appeal, his summing up was criticised as being biased against the defendants, with him saying that there was "the clearest and most overwhelming evidence I have ever heard in a case of murder". The defendants served 16 years in prison before the convictions were quashed by the Court of Appeal in 1991 due to new evidence emerging - principally, that the defendants had been beaten by the police to secure their confessions (similar claims having been dismissed by Bridge at the original trial).

He became a Lord Justice of Appeal in 1975, and became a Privy Counsellor. He was a member of the Security Commission from 1977 and 1985, serving as chairman between 1982 and 1985, in which capacity he published a report into the vetting of staff at Buckingham Palace.[1] He also conducted inquiries following the cases of Geoffrey Prime, Michael Bettaney and Rhona Ritchie.

He became a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1980, and was created a life peer with the title Baron Bridge of Harwich, of Harwich, in the County of Essex. He was the only Law Lord without a university degree. He was mooted as a successor to Lord Widgery as Lord Chief Justice in 1979, and to Lord Denning as Master of the Rolls in 1982, but did not secure either position.

He joined Lord Oliver of Aylmerton in dissenting from the majority decision in the Spycatcher case in 1987. He criticised the government's case to prevent publication of the contents of Peter Wright's book as "ridiculous". He supported the majority decision in the Gillick case on medical consent in 1985, and in the McLoughlin v O'Brian case on recovery of damages for nervous shock.

Later life[edit]

His retirement from the bench in 1992 was compulsory, having reached 75 years old. He studied mathematical sciences in his retirement, partly to show that he retained his cognitive abilities, and obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from the Open University in 2003, aged 86. He was an Honorary Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge from 1989 and chairman of the Church of England Synodical Government Review from 1993 to 1997.

Cases[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bridge, N.C (1982). Baron of Harwich. Report of an inquiry by the Right Honourable Lord Bridge of Harwich into the appointment as The Queen's Police Officer, and the activities of, Commander Trestrail; to determine whether security was breached or put at risk, and advise whether in consequence any change in security arrangements is necessary or desirable. HC59 (November). London: HMSO.