Robert Goff, Baron Goff of Chieveley

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The Lord Goff of Chieveley

The Lord Goff of Chieveley as an appellate judge
Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
In office
1 October 1996 – 3 0 September 1998
Preceded byThe Lord Keith of Kinkel
Succeeded byThe Lord Browne-Wilkinson
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
In office
6 February 1986 – 30 September 1998
Preceded byEustace Roskill, Baron Roskill
Succeeded byThe Lord Hobhouse of Woodborough
Personal details
Robert Lionel Archibald Goff

(1926-11-12)12 November 1926
Kinloch, Perthshire, Scotland
Died14 August 2016(2016-08-14) (aged 89)
Cambridge, England
Spouse(s)Sarah Goff (née Cousins)
ChildrenKatharine Goff, Juliet Goff, Thomas Goff and William Goff
ParentsLieutenant-Colonel Lionel Trevor Goff, Isobel Jane Higgon (née Denroche-Smith)[1]
EducationNew College, Oxford
AwardsOrder of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (First Class)
GER Bundesverdienstkreuz 7 Grosskreuz.svg
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom
Branch/serviceUnited Kingdom Scots Guard, British Army
Years of service1944-1948[2]
Battles/warsWorld War II

Robert Lionel Archibald Goff, Baron Goff of Chieveley, PC FBA (/ɡɔːf/) (12 November 1926 – 14 August 2016) was an English barrister and judge who was Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary of the House of Lords, the predecessor to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Best known for establishing unjust enrichment as a branch of English law,[3] he has been described by Andrew Burrows as "the greatest judge of modern times".[4] Goff was the original co-author of Goff & Jones, the leading authoritative English law textbook on restitution and unjust enrichment, first published in 1966. He practiced as a commercial barrister from 1951 to 1975, following which he began his career as a judge. He was appointed to the House of Lords in 1986.

Goff was born in his mother's family home in Perthshire, Scotland and was raised in Hampshire, England.[5] He obtained a place at New College, Oxford but was called up in December 1944 and served in the Scots Guards in Italy until going to Oxford in October 1948. He earned a First-Class degree in Jurisprudence there, and three weeks after receiving his examination results was offered a fellowship at Oxford.[6] He accepted this on condition that he could be called to the Bar first. He was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1951, and appointed Fellow and Tutor at Lincoln College, Oxford and a University Lecturer in Jurisprudence in 1952. He was High Steward of the University of Oxford from 1991 to 2001.

As one of the few early academics-turned-judges, Goff long advocated a complementary view of the role of the legal academic and judge. In the Maccabean Lecture to the British Academy in 1983, Goff described the two as on a shared "search for principle", and said that it was the fusion of their work that led to the development of the common law.[7] In this respect, Stephen Tomlinson said that "no judge has done more than Robert to ensure that the views of legal academic commentators now regularly inform the decision-making in our higher courts".[8]

Towards the later part of his life, he also developed an interest in sharing perspectives with foreign lawyers and judges.[8] In particular, he believed that the common law was a uniquely adaptable system which he believed deserved better understanding in civil law jurisdictions. [9] For building bridges between judges in the United Kingdom and Germany, Goff was awarded the German Grand Cross (Order of Merit).[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Robert Goff was the only son of Lionel Trevor Goff (1877-1953) and Isobel Jane Higgon (née Denroche-Smith) - a war widow. His father, a Lieutenant-Colonel in the Royal Artillery, as a young officer, was wounded in the Siege of Ladysmith and was mentioned in dispatches. He also served in the World War I, was wounded in 1917 and again mentioned in dispatches.

Robert Goff was born at his mother’s home in Perthshire, but lived and was brought up at the Goff home in Hampshire. He was educated at St Aubyns School, Rottingdean and Eton College, where he became a history specialist and a competent pianist.[3] He obtained a place at New College - but was called up in December 1944 and served in the Scots Guards in Italy until going to Oxford in October 1948.

He read Jurisprudence and took a First Class Degree in 1950.  He was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1951.  He was also appointed Fellow and Tutor at Lincoln College, Oxford and a University Lecturer in Jurisprudence, posts he took up in 1952. While researching topics for lectures, he stumbled on the subject of Quasi-Contract or Restitution. He tried the subject out in seminars and decided that it might become a book. [6]

In 1955 he returned to the Bar - to the chambers of Ashton Roskill QC at 5, King’s Bench Walk. He continued work on Restitution and in 1957 he was joined by Gareth Jones and they worked together on the project until its publication in 1966.

At 5, KBW He specialised in Commercial and Civil Law. He took silk in 1967.


Academic career[edit]

Goff began teaching at Lincoln College, Oxford in October 1952,[8] where his students included Swinton Thomas, later a prominent judge at the Court of Appeal.[8] As a University Lecturer, Robert was required to deliver a course of lectures on any area of interest to him. When exploring texts for inspiration, he chanced upon "quasi-contracts", a concept traceable to Roman law, but which was at that point unrecognised in English law.[8] Together with Ronnie Maudsley, the law Tutor at Brasenose College, Oxford, he set up a series of seminars on the subject.[8] These formed the beginnings of Goff & Jones on the Law of Restitution.[8]

Goff & Jones on the Law of Unjust Enrichment[edit]

Goff began drafting the textbook after leaving academia for the Commercial Bar. At the time, work for junior barristers was limited, and so he spent considerable time working on the book at the Inner Temple library. As he became more senior and work intensified, he sought a partner with whom to complete the text. He chose Gareth Jones, then Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Upon its release, the book was reviewed favourably by Lord Denning in the Law Quarterly Review.[10] The book's propositions were not, however, welcomed unanimously. For example, they were resisted by Lord Diplock, who as late as in 1978 declared that "there is no general doctrine of unjust enrichment recognised in English law".[8]

Career at the Bar[edit]

Goff left academia to join the Commercial Bar in 1955, at a time when the prevailing belief was that there was a sharp difference between academic law and law in practice. He joined the chambers of Ashton Roskill, then known as 5, King's Bench Walk (but which later amalgamated with 6, King's Bench Walk to form what is today known as 7, King's Bench Walk, or 7KBW). He worked as a pupil barrister under Basil Eckersley, a shipping lawyer of renown, from whom he learned careful draftsmanship.[8]

Goff took silk in 1967,[6] and was close friends with a junior barrister named Brian Davenport, whom he described as "exceptionally gifted", but who died of multiple sclerosis in his early thirties.[6]

Since 2018, 7KBW has commemorated Lord Goff's contributions through the annual The Lords Goff and Hobhouse Memorial Lectures.[11]

Judicial career[edit]

Goff was appointed to the High Court (Queen's Bench Division) in 1975, and received the customary knighthood.[12] He held the office of Bencher of the Inner Temple and High Court Judge of the Queen's Bench between 1975-82. He was made a Lord Justice of Appeal and was sworn in as a Privy Councillor in 1982.

Goff was made a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and a life peer on 6 February 1986, as Baron Goff of Chieveley, of Chieveley in the County of Berkshire.[13] On 1 October 1996, The Lord Keith of Kinkel retired as Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and Lord Goff succeeded him.[14] In 1999 he was awarded the Grand Cross (First Class) of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his contribution to British awareness of German law. Lord Goff remained in the role until his own retirement.

Fostering Links with Foreign Jurisdictions[edit]


Christian von Bar, a Professor of Law at Osnabrück University, shared Goff's admiration of the common law. He persuaded Goff to speak German judges about the common law, and organised a meeting with members of the Federal Constitutional Court of Germany. The meeting was attended also by Oxford professors Peter Birks and Francis Reynolds. This began a series of exchanges between the two. In recognition of his work in fostering links between English and German judges, Goff was awarded Grand Cross (First Class) of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany.


Laxmi Mall Singhvi, the former Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, set up a series of lectures for British jurists in India. Lord Goff delivered the annual series in 1984, across New Delhi, Mumbai, Jodhpur and Udaipur.[8] He subsequently also delivered the inaugural G S Pathak Memorial Lecture in New Delhi,[15] where he famously remarked that the difference between Germany and England was that in Germany, "the Professor is God, but in England, the Judge is God".[16]

Hong Kong[edit]

In 1990, Goff delivered the first of the annual Lord Goff lectures at the City University of Hong Kong.[17] This series has continued to feature eminent speakers, including four subsequent Justices of the Supreme Court: Lord Bingham of Cornhill, Lord Mustill, Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Mance.[17]

Work with the Inns of Court[edit]

When Goff left academia and came to the Bar, he brought with him a strong interest in the welfare of students and young barristers. He believed in the importance of making legal training available to junior barristers, and started giving lectures there almost as soon as he had arrived.

Pegasus Trust[edit]

The Pegasus Trust was one of Goff's key contributions as a member of Inner Temple. In 1987, when the Inner Temple was going through a time of economic difficulty, Goff was asked by the Treasurer to chair an appeal to boost its Scholarship Fund.[8] He established the Pegasus Scholarship,[18] a scheme which enables young English barristers to gain work experience abroad, and for overseas lawyers to experience work at a set of English chambers.[19][20] To fund it, he put together a committee of Benchers, including Lord James Mackay and James Callaghan, who was able to secure the support of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust. He also entertained John King, Baron King of Wartnaby, then Chairman of British Airways, to lunch at the Savoy Grill, a meeting which resulted in British Airways providing free flights for Pegasus Scholars.[8]

The Pegasus Trust represented Goff's belief in the importance of linking different jurisdictions, as well as his interest in the welfare of young barristers. As a collaborative effort between the four Inns of Court, it also supported his belief that the Inns should work closer together. Stephen Tomlinson described it as a "valuable and lasting legacy".[8]

In establishing it, he said that:

"The common law is one of the greatest forces for good in the world. For many, the common law means the rule of law and the absolute independence of the judiciary. It is of paramount importance for the future of the common law that bridges should be built between the legal professions in the many countries of the world which live under this system. The Pegasus scholarship scheme makes it possible for gifted young lawyers – the future leaders of their professions – to learn about the practical working of the common law system in countries other than their own, and to form enduring links with lawyers in those counties."[19]

Personal views[edit]

On the role of judge and jurist[edit]

As an academic-turned-judge, Goff believed that the two were different, yet complementary.[7] He made this point most famously in his Maccabean Lecture to the British Academy in 1983, and maintained this position throughout his life. Three years later, he said that "it is difficult to overestimate the influence of the jurist in England today".[21] In his seminal judgment in Spiliada Maritime Corp v Cansulex Ltd in 1986, Goff used elevated language, describing jurists as “pilgrims with [judges] on the endless road to unattainable perfection”.[22] In 1987, Goff wrote an article titled Judge, Jurist and Legislature, in which he detailed his views on the roles of these players in the legal system.

Goff's views influenced others to think about the role of judges and jurists. Lord Rodger's first article in 1994 was inspired by statements Goff had made on the topic in the 1980s.[21] They also featured prominently in Lord Neuberger's lecture Judges and Professors: Ships Passing in the Night? and Sir Jack Beatson's lecture Legal Academics: Forgotten Players or Interlopers?

Personal life[edit]

Goff was an accomplished pianist; he began his days with a Mozart sonata and spent considerable time transposing and arranging pieces of music for the family collection of instruments.[8] He was also particularly fond of the countryside and gardening.[8]

In 1953, he married Sarah Cousins, a graduate of History from St Anne's College, Oxford.[23]

Awards, honours and appointments[edit]

Professorships and honorary degrees[edit]

Goff was influential in the teaching of law. He was honorary professor of Legal Ethics at Birmingham University and Chairman of the Council of Legal Education. He also held many honorary degrees and fellowships. This included an honorary degree from the University of Reading from Lord Carrington. He was a Fellow of the British Academy.


From 1991 to 2001 he was High Steward of Oxford University. He served as President of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, and was a patron of the Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal.[24] He was President of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators.[25] He was also Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, which oversaw the teaching and examination of the Bar Final.[8]

Important judgments[edit]

Lord Goff gave many important judgments, including his judgments in the following cases:


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Lord Goff of Chieveley obituary: Forward-looking law lord keen to reconcile practical justice with principle". The Guardian. 30 August 2016. Retrieved 24 July 2018.
  2. ^ Morton, James (30 August 2016). "Lord Goff of Chieveley obituary: Forward-looking law lord keen to reconcile practical justice with principle". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 July 2018. He served in the Scots Guards for four years from 1944 before completing his education at New College, Oxford
  3. ^ a b Goode, Roy (2000). The Search for Principle: Essays in Honour of Lord Goff of Chieveley. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198298830.
  4. ^ Burrows, Andrew. "Obituary: Lord Goff of Chieveley". Newsletter: Society of Legal Scholars.
  5. ^ "Obituaries: Lord Goff of Chievely" (PDF). The Times. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Goff, Robert (2002). "Address to Law Students at the University of Oxford".
  7. ^ a b Goff, Robert (1983). "The Search for Principle" (PDF). The British Academy. Retrieved 16 June 2019.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Tomlinson, Stephen (2018). The Inner Temple Yearbook 2017-2018. United Kingdom: The Honourable Society of The Inner Temple. pp. 34–36.
  9. ^ Goff, Robert (2002). "Address to Law Students at the University of Oxford".
  10. ^ Denning, Alfred (1967). "Review of Goff & Jones". Law Quarterly Review. 83: 277.
  11. ^ "New Date - The 2019 Lords Goff and Hobhouse Memorial Lecture". 7KBW. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  12. ^ "No. 46775". The London Gazette. 30 December 1975. p. 16381.
  13. ^ "No. 50427". The London Gazette. 11 February 1986. p. 1981.
  14. ^ "State Intelligence". London Gazette. 4 October 1996. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  15. ^ Singhvi, Laxmi Mall (2012). Parliamentary Democracy in India. Prabhat Prakashan. ISBN 9788184301267.
  16. ^ Nariman, Fali (2010). Before Memory Fades. Hay House, Inc. ISBN 9789381398005.
  17. ^ a b "School of Law - City University of Hong Kong". Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  18. ^ "Pegasus Trust | Our partners". Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  19. ^ a b "Pegasus Trust". Inner Temple. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  20. ^ bermudalegal (24 August 2016). "Lord Goff of Chieveley, and his influence on Bermuda". Bermuda Legal. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  21. ^ a b Beatson, Jack (12 November 2012). "Legal Academics: Forgotten Players or Interlopers?" (PDF). Judiciary of England & Wales. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 June 2019. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  22. ^ "Spiliada Maritime Corp v Cansulex Ltd [1986] UKHL 10 (19 November 1986)". Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  23. ^ Cousins, Sarah (2016). "Obituary of Lord Goff of Chieveley".
  24. ^ "Oxford University Commonwealth Law Journal – Board of Patrons". Archived from the original on 6 February 2005. Retrieved 19 March 2009.
  25. ^ "List of Past Presidents". Chartered Institute of Arbitrators. Retrieved 30 June 2019.
  26. ^ Virgo, Graham (1999). The Principles of the Law of Restitution. Clarendon Press. p. 158. ISBN 0-19-876377-8.
  27. ^ Debrett's Peerage & Baronetage. 2000.
Legal offices
Preceded by
The Lord Keith of Kinkel
Senior Law Lord
Succeeded by
The Lord Browne-Wilkinson