Leslie Scarman, Baron Scarman

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Scarman
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
In office
Lord Justice of Appeal
In office
High Court judge
In office
Personal details
Born (1911-07-29)29 July 1911
Streatham, London, England, UK
Died 8 December 2004(2004-12-08) (aged 93)
Westgate-on-Sea, Kent, England, UK
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Ruth Wright
Children 1
Alma mater Brasenose College, Oxford

Leslie George Scarman, Baron Scarman OBE PC QC (29 July 1911 – 8 December 2004) was an English judge and barrister, who served as a Law Lord until his retirement in 1986.

Early life and education[edit]

He was born in Streatham but grew up on the border of Sussex and Surrey. He won scholarships to Radley College and then Brasenose College, Oxford, as a Classical Scholar, graduating in 1932 with a first.

Legal career[edit]

He was called to the Bar in 1936. He remained briefless until World War II, which he spent in the RAF as a staff officer in England, North Africa, and then continental Europe and he was present with Lord Tedder when the German surrender was accepted in Berlin.[1] He returned to law in 1945, practising from Fountain Court Chambers in London, and became a QC in 1957, and a High Court judge in 1961 – assigned to the Family Division. He joined the Court of Appeal in 1973 and was Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, a Law Lord, from 1977 until his retirement in 1986.

He was appointed head of the Law Commission from 1965 to 1973, during which time 27 Commission-inspired statutes were made law. As a judge, Scarman's career had some controversial decisions. Although widely regarded as a liberal, he upheld the blasphemy conviction of Gay News (1979), punctured the GLC's Fares Fair low-cost public transport policy (1981), and supported the banning of trade unions at GCHQ (1985). He is best known for chairing the public inquiry on the causes of the race riots in Brixton in 1981. He also chaired inquiries into the Northern Ireland riots of August 1969 (1969–1972), the Red Lion Square disorders (1975) and the Grunwick dispute (1977).[citation needed]

Later Life and Honours[edit]

After entering the House of Lords the more liberal aspects of his character dominated – he was chancellor of the University of Warwick, president of the British Institute of Human Rights, and worked on behalf of the Prince's Trust, the Birmingham Six, and Charter 88 among many other projects. In 1991 he set up the Scarman Trust.[citation needed]

He was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1945,[2] knighted in 1961,[3] made a Privy Councillor in 1973, and created Life Peer on 30 September 1977 as Baron Scarman, of Quatt in the County of Shropshire.[4]

He married Ruth Wright in 1947, with whom he had one son. He died in 2004.[5]

Notable judgments[edit]

  • Whitehouse -v- Lemon; Whitehouse -v- Gay News Ltd On Appeal From Regina -v- Lemon [1979] 2 WLR 281[6]
  • Sidaway v Board of Governors of the Bethlem Royal Hospital and the Maudsley Hospital [1985] AC 871

In popular culture[edit]

Scarman appeared in the final episode of series one of the BBC1 drama Ashes to Ashes, played by Geoffrey Palmer.

Scarman is referenced in the Boring episode of The Young Ones series one where an overly racist policeman wearing dark sunglasses mistakes a white man wearing black riding gloves ringing a doorbell for a black man: "I could pull both your arms off and leave no trace of violence. Lord Scarman need never know" (31:44).


  1. ^ Mortimer, John (1986). Character Parts. London, UK: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-008959-4. 
  2. ^ "No. 37119". The London Gazette (Supplement). 14 June 1945. p. 2949. 
  3. ^ "No. 42285". The London Gazette. 21 February 1961. p. 1359. 
  4. ^ "No. 47342". The London Gazette. 4 October 1977. p. 12509. 
  5. ^ Announcement of his death at the House of Lords House of Lords minutes of proceedings, 13 December 2004.
  6. ^ Lawindexpro: case report

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Radcliffe
Chancellor of the University of Warwick
Succeeded by
Shridath Ramphal