Ex-Court of Appeal judge lifts lids on what it was REALLY like working with Lord Denning

Avatar photo

By Katie King on

Is he worthy of his law student legend crown?


Law students breathe a sigh of relief: a former Court of Appeal judge has revealed what it was really like to work personally with Lord Denning and apparently he was a joker.

This according to Sir Henry Brooke. Now retired, Brooke began blogging about his life in the upper echelons of the justice system last year, sharing with readers his advocacy tips and his insights into some of the country’s most important legal affairs milestones.

Yesterday it was controversial ex-Master of the Rolls Lord Denning’s turn to get the Brooke treatment.

In an article called ‘Lord Denning and I’ — the second in a series about the late, great judge — Brooke admitted that Denning is in some ways “a discredited figure”. He certainly ran into controversy later on in his life when he described the Guildford Four as “probably guilty”, and apparently said:

We shouldn’t have all these campaigns to get the Birmingham Six released if they’d been hanged. They’d have been forgotten and the whole community would have been satisfied.

Brooke notes these remarks were “better left unsaid”, and also thinks Denning stayed on as a judge “for far too long” (he was 82-years-old when he retired). But, according to Brooke:

In my eyes, for all his shortcomings in old age, he was the most inspirational figure I ever had dealings with.

Continuing, 80-year-old Brooke — who used to practise from top commercial set Fountain Court Chambers before becoming a judge in 1988 — mused:

When Lord Denning spoke to students he would start by reeling out a whole series of ‘jokes’ I heard again and again — on popular misconceptions of the nature of the office of Master of the Rolls (with some people placing it in the bread-making business or in the manufacture of expensive cars)… or on the House of Lords being like Paradise (a place one would like to get to one day but not yet).

The audience, Brooke said, would be “eating out of his hand”, and apparently he was just as excellent in a courtroom setting. The article goes on to say Denning was:

[A]lways ahead of the argument, throwing out comments in his unique accent, which some attributed to his origins as a man of Hampshire and others thought he had created for himself. He was a delight to appear in front of, even if… one was on the losing side.

Legal Cheek is sure law students up and down the country will be thrilled to learn their homeboy Denning was as delightful in person as he appears in their textbooks. We have everything crossed for a Brooke/Denning selfie when part three of the blog series is released.