Leonard Hoffmann, Baron Hoffmann

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Hoffmann
1 Lord Hoffman.jpg
Lord Hoffman speaking at a conference in Singapore in 2016
Second Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
In office
2007 – 21 April 2009
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by The Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead
Succeeded by The Lord Hope of Craighead
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
In office
21 February 1995 – 21 April 2009
Succeeded by The Lord Collins of Mapesbury
Personal details
Born Leonard Hubert Hoffmann
(1934-05-08) 8 May 1934 (age 82)
Cape Town, South Africa
Spouse(s) Gillian Hoffmann
Children 2
Alma mater University of Cape Town
The Queen's College, Oxford
Occupation Jurist
Religion Judaism

Leonard Hubert Hoffmann, Baron Hoffmann, PC (born 8 May 1934)[1] is a retired senior British judge. He served as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary from 1995 to 2009.

Well known for his lively decisions and willingness to break with convention, he has had an especially large impact on shareholder actions in UK company law, in restricting tort liability for public authorities, human rights and on intellectual property law, in particular patents. He is also a Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong.


Born 8 May 1934 in Cape Town, Leonard Hubert Hoffmann, nicknamed "Lennie", was the son of a well-known solicitor who co-founded what has become Africa's largest law firm, Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs. He was educated at the University of Cape Town and then attended The Queen's College, Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar, where he studied for the BCL degree and won the Vinerian Scholarship. Between 1961 and 1973, he was Stowell Civil Law Fellow at University College, Oxford, where he is also an Honorary Fellow.[citation needed]

In 1963, he published the first edition of The South African Law of Evidence, a work which became the standard text and which has since been published in four editions. After being called to the Bar from Gray's Inn in 1964, Hoffmann became one of the most sought after and highly priced barristers of his generation and was quickly made a judge, having been made QC in 1977.[citation needed]

He was a Judge in the Courts of Appeal of Jersey and Guernsey from 1980 to 1985 and a Judge of the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division from 1985 to 1992. He was subsequently a Lord Justice of Appeal from 1992 to 1995. In 1995,[2] Hoffmann was appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (more commonly known as a Law Lord) and thereby created a life peer by the title of Baron Hoffmann, of Chedworth in the County of Gloucestershire.

Twinsectra v Yardley (trust law) and MacNiven v Westmoreland (tax law) are prominent examples of his judicial positions. Both cases led to differences of view between him and Lord Millett. Hoffmann gave the leading judgment in Investors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society, in which he set out five principles for interpreting contracts.

His failure to declare his links with Amnesty International before ruling on whether Augusto Pinochet was immune from prosecution led to the unprecedented setting aside of a House of Lords judgment. He later commented to the Daily Telegraph that "the fact is I'm not biased. I am a lawyer. I do things as a judge. The fact that my wife works as a secretary for Amnesty International is, as far as I am concerned, neither here nor there."

He retired as a Law Lord on 20 April 2009[3] and joined the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary, University of London, as Honorary Professor of Intellectual Property Law.[4]

He has been a Non-Permanent Judge of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal since 1998.[5]

In 2004 he was awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star by the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.[6]


Leonard and Gillian Hoffmann have two daughters and two grandchildren.

Opinions in terrorism cases[edit]

Lord Hoffmann was involved in three important judgments of the House of Lords concerning terrorism: Secretary of State for the Home Department v Rehman [2001] UKHL 47; A v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] UKHL 56; and A v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2005] UKHL 71. In Rehman, at para 62, he wrote:

Postscript. I wrote this speech some three months before the recent events in New York and Washington. They are a reminder that in matters of national security, the cost of failure can be high. This seems to me to underline the need for the judicial arm of government to respect the decisions of ministers of the Crown on the question of whether support for terrorist activities in a foreign country constitutes a threat to national security. It is not only that the executive has access to special information and expertise in these matters. It is also that such decisions, with serious potential results for the community, require a legitimacy which can be conferred only by entrusting them to persons responsible to the community through the democratic process. If the people are to accept the consequences of such decisions, they must be made by persons whom the people have elected and whom they can remove.

It appeared that he was willing to defer to the executive in matters concerning national security in the fairly long tradition of English judges deferring to the executive in such matters, including Lord Denning in ex-parte Hosenball. However, in 2004, Lord Hoffmann took a robust stand (joining the majority of judges in the decision) against the executive in the Belmarsh case, A v. SSHD [2004] UKHL 56. In this case Lord Hoffmann wrote at para 97 that:

The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.

In A v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2005] UKHL 71, Lord Hoffmann said:

The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it.



  1. ^ "Birthday's today". The Telegraph. 8 May 2013. Retrieved 28 April 2014. Lord Hoffmann, a former Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, 79 
  2. ^ BBC News — Lord Hoffmann: A conservative liberal
  3. ^ Appointment of two Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, Wednesday, 8 April 2009
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ 'Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal - The Non-Permanent Judges - The Right Honourable The Lord HOFFMANN, GBS' <http://www.hkcfa.hk/en/about/who/judges/npjs/index_id_10.html> accessed 3 June 2016.
  6. ^ 'Civil And Miscellaneous Lists : Recipients of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Honours and Awards Grand Bauhinia Medal (G.B.M.)' <http://www.info.gov.hk/cml/eng/miscell/index2.htm> accessed 3 June 2016

External links[edit]

Order of precedence
Anthony Mason
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal
Hong Kong order of precedence
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal
Succeeded by
The Lord Millett
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal