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Lord Kerr

It is with enormous sadness that we have learnt of the death of Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore on 1 December 2020.

Lord Kerr had a most distinguished career as a judge, becoming a High Court judge in Northern Ireland at the age of 44 and subsequently serving for five years as the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. In 2009 he was appointed to the House of Lords as the last Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, and later that year he became one of the inaugural justices of the Supreme Court.

Following his retirement from the Supreme Court, he joined FTB early in October this year as an Associate Member to practise as an arbitrator and mediator.  He long had a close connection with Chambers, which included having presided over our Kingsland Cup Moot finals for many years and delivered our Boydell Lecture. 

We respected and admired him for his many qualities, above all for his wisdom, his kindness and his gentle wit, and had greatly looked forward to working with him as his colleagues on this next phase of his career.

We will miss him greatly and our deepest sympathies are with his family.

There follow two appreciations by two of our members Hugh Flanagan and Gregory Jones QC.

Hugh Flanagan writes:

I had the great good fortune to be judicial assistant to Lord Kerr in 2010-2011. Lord Kerr was a much loved member of the court by judges, staff and advocates alike. In court he was incisive and accommodating, putting advocates at their ease with good humour whilst drilling deep into their submissions. Outside court his door was open to all-comers and he relished being challenged on the day’s case by any judicial assistant foolhardy enough to do so. He was unceasingly kind and generous and the instigator of excellent dinners at which he would invariably show greater stamina than his judicial assistants. When we gave him a case of wine on his retirement, it was entirely characteristic that his immediate response was to invite us round to share it with him. He will be sorely missed.

Gregory Jones QC writes:

“Congratulations.  You are all now fortunate to be called to the bar of the premiere common law jurisdiction,” the then Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland, Sir Brian Kerr welcomed me and half a dozen mainly English and Irish qualified barristers assembled in Belfast at the Royal Courts of Justice for the ceremony qualifying us to appear in Northern Ireland. The words were delivered with dead pan grave authority with just a wisp of humour in his eyes. It was immediately easy to see how “the Chief” was held in such high esteem and affection in Northern Ireland. But that was 2008 and it was across the water, as junior counsel to Charles George QC, that I next appeared before, the by now, Lord Kerr, Justice of the Supreme Court, in the case of Morge v Hampshire County Council. Never afraid to be a lone voice if he thought it right, Lord Kerr took the more communautaire and pro environmental protection approach and gave a dissenting judgment in our favour.  I later appeared before Lord Kerr as leading counsel in a Northern Ireland case by way of an Attorney General of Northern Ireland’s reference. Lord Kerr delivered a creative judgment this time supported by his colleagues on the Supreme Court which resulted in the case being adjourned. I count it as a win!  A lover of sports and especially rugby, Lord Kerr was a great companion when we went to see Ireland secure the Grand Slam at Twickenham on St Patrick’s Day.  As Afrikaner CJ Stander went over to score a try putting Ireland 14:0 up,  I rather tetchily asked Lord Kerr just which of the four provinces of Ireland the Irish back row hailed from?  “That’ll be the less well-known Western Province” he replied.  But it is perhaps as a judge of the FTB Kingsland Mooting competition that encapsulates best my memories of Lord Kerr.  He judged it four times.  Held at No. 1 Court of the Old Bailey, on one occasion following a security alert in the City of London, Lord Kerr rushed over from the Supreme Court only to be barred entry by security staff.  Production of his SC identity card did not work “Supreme Court Sir? Never heard of it.” Lord Kerr enjoyed being considered a possible security threat and never once said “Look do you know who I am?” Indeed, upon joining FTB as an associate tenant he requested being referred to as Brian.  He wore his learning and achievements lightly and judging the last FTB moot virtually conducted only weeks ago, Lord Kerr was impressive in his polite but probing testing of the student mooters.  In a short post moot master-class, Lord Kerr’s key piece of advice to the student advocate was knowing when to make a concession. Then, the winners having been announced the complicated process of securing screen shot photographs of the winners with the Judge was carried out.  But it was Lord Kerr who then requested that the photographs screen shots also be taken of him also with the runners-up. An act of thoughtfulness, but Lord Kerr was aware of the impact his judgments might have on people’s lives even student mooters.