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7 of Lord Denning’s most controversial comments

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He’s a law student favourite, but his views might shock you

Lord Denning is to many the most famous judge of all time. Law students certainly love him for his colourful judgments and wild dissents — small wonder he was named one of the most influential people in the legal profession by University of Law students.

But is he really worthy of his law student favourite crown? While Denning’s judgments certainly make for interesting reading, they’ve also been slammed for being difficult to follow. And, as Denning grew older and older, he grew more senile and arguably more controversial.

World War I veteran Denning died in 1999 after making it to 100 and, particularly in his later years, became known for making comments that didn’t really wash. The Independent felt so strongly about his decline, it ran a piece just two days after his death headlined: ‘If only Lord Denning had died at seventy…”.

Some will say these comments were simply a product of the century he lived through, much of it pre-gay and civil rights movements. This said, it’s still interesting to reflect on seven of Denning’s more eye-raising quotes, given his endearing ‘most famous judge of all time’ status.

1. He described homosexuality as a cult

During a parliamentary debate — which included the Earl of Halsbury describing homosexuals as promiscuous, exhibitionist “reservoirs of venereal diseases” — Denning said:

“We must not allow this cult of homosexuality, making it equal with heterosexuality, to develop in our land. We must preserve our moral and spiritual values.”

2. He struck out the Birmingham Six’s compensation claim for questionable reasons

Denning was one of many judges involved in what’s becoming known as the Birmingham Six case, in which six men were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the deadly Birmingham pub bombings of 1974.

Former Master of the Rolls Denning’s role came in 1980, with the still-incarcerated Birmingham Six’s civil claim against the police. Dismissing the case, he said:

“Just consider the course of events if their action were to proceed to trial… If the six men failed it would mean that much time and money and worry would have been expended by many people to no good purpose. If they won, it would mean that the police were guilty of perjury; that they were guilty of violence and threats; that the confessions were involuntary and improperly admitted in evidence; and that the convictions were erroneous… That was such an appalling vista that every sensible person would say, ‘It cannot be right that these actions should go any further’.”

The convictions were quashed in 1991. The men would later, in 2001, go on to receive approximately £1 million in compensation each.

3. Innocent people being hanged would ‘satisfy’ the community

Again on the Birmingham Six, Denning is reported to have said: “We shouldn’t have all these campaigns to get them released if they’d been hanged. They’d have been forgotten and the whole community would have been satisfied.” He always insisted these remarks had been taken out of context.

4. Denning described a Tory politician born in London as a German Jew

Denning notably told a reporter that Leon Brittan, a now deceased Conservative MP and member of the European Commission, was a “German Jew”. He was born in London to Lithuanian parents. When pushed on what Brittan’s heritage had to do with anything, he said:

“I think you’ll find he’s a German Jew, telling us what to do with our English law. It’s quite plain that these pan-Europeans do not go by the words of the treaty. That’s why I don’t think there’s much chance of altering things.”

Denning also slammed Brittan, a barrister, for his advocacy skills. “He appeared before me several times when he was at the bar, in libel cases,” Denning revealed. “He was no good.”

5. He made that Guildford Four comment

In the mid-1970s, three men and one woman were convicted and sentenced for their alleged involvement in IRA attacks. Released in 1989, the four served a combined prison sentence of 60 years and the case is now a staple in the discussion of miscarriages of justice. Despite this, Denning said the Guildford Four were “probably guilty”.

6. Homosexuals can’t be judges

It was the case in legal history that threatening to ‘out’ people, whether they were gay or not, was a common basis for blackmail. Though homosexuality had been at least partly decriminalised by 1967, in 1990 Denning suggested homosexuals’ vulnerability to blackmail should stop them from being appointed as judges. Sir Terence Etherton, now Master of the Rolls as Denning once was, is openly gay.

7. Black people can’t serve on juries

Denning’s comment about black people serving on juries, made in 1982, is perhaps his most controversial.

“The underlying assumption is that all citizens are sufficiently qualified to serve on a jury,” Denning wrote in his book What Next in the Law. “I do not agree. The English are no longer a homogeneous race. They are white and black, coloured and brown. They no longer share the same standards of conduct. Some of them come from countries where bribery and graft are accepted as an integral part of life and where stealing is a virtue so long as you are not found out… They will never accept the word of a policeman against one of their own.”

The comments caused such a backlash, he publicly apologised and resigned soon after.

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47 Comments

Anonymous

I’m mystified by this repeated description of Denning as a “law student favourite”. When I was studying law, Denning was almost universally derided as a judge with very little respect for the law and from whose judgments it was almost impossible to extract any real statement of principle.

Anonymous

Duh!

That was the whole point! He aimed to reach the just solution then work backwards justifying it using the law. That was his genius.

Thicko!

Anonymous

Leon Britten – alleged paedophile

Anonymous

Dominic Grieve claims electoral fraud growing in immigrant areas
Former attorney general calls on Conservatives to stop fraud in communities with ‘a tradition of electoral corruption in their home countries’

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/oct/06/dominic-grieve-electoral-fraud-growing-immigrant-areas

s.32 Salmon Act 1986

Grieve pointed to: (a) evidence from the electoral commission; and (b) the well-publicised facts of the Lutfur Rahman case. So either:
1. you have evidence demonstrating that Grieve’s comments are based on prejudice rather than factual analysis (in which case you have undermined your position by failing to supply such evidence, but could conceivably recover by providing that evidence); or
2. you do not have such evidence, in which case what is your argument?

Anonymous

Dont get your brain cells muddled. Just copy and pasted the title of the article word – for – word and the link.

s.32 Salmon Act 1986

…and the point of raising it in the context of the Denning article was what precisely?

It looks very much as though you are trying (poorly) to draw a connection between Denning’s comments regarding juries and Grieve’s comments regarding voter fraud, and now (having realised it was a foolish idea) you are attempting to distance yourself from it by claiming that you are just shoddily recycling other people’s work.

Anonymous

Re – read the title that i cut and pasted and then make your own mind up…

Article: Former attorney general calls on Conservatives to stop fraud in communities with ‘a tradition of electoral corruption in their home countries’

Denning quote: Some of them come from countries where bribery and graft are accepted as an integral part of life

cut and paste all of it – none of my opinions

s.32 Salmon Act 1986

While you (somewhat pathetically) attempt to cower behind the argument that these are not your opinions, it is nevertheless abundantly clear that you believe that there is a link between what Denning said and what Grieve said.

Now, if Grieve had simply made a bald assertion that certain communities in the UK are prone to electoral fraud than others, you might have had an argument that he was guilty of some form of prejudice. But instead, he cited facts and evidence demonstrating that there is a problem in the electoral system. Should you wish to make an actual argument that Grieve is prejudiced, you would need to “cut and paste” a link to some evidence.

Anonymous

I like how you seem to tell me what my own beliefs are.

s.32 Salmon Act 1986

LOL. You literally compared two statements. I then said that you evidently believed that those two statements were connected (that’s called drawing conclusions from evidence). Either:
(1) my analysis is correct, and you believe that such a connection exists; or
(2) you do not believe that such a connection exists, but you are such an incredibly poor communicator that you chose to compare two statements that you consider have nothing to do with one another.

Anonymous

you need to calm down. I have literally cut and pasted – 4 clicks and a handful of sentences. You have written essays and had a nosebleed. I said make your own mind up. I dont understand why this has to descend into personal vitriol. You are having an argument with yourself. You are literally trolling yourself.

s.32 Salmon Act 1986

We made our minds up. The link you were implying, between Denning’s statement and Grieve’s, does not exist.

Anonymous

Two words: Tower Hamlets.

Anonymous

Man. The Legal Cheek barrel truly scraped for a Friday’s news.

Anonymous

Yep it’s just padding and waffling nonsense. They have to write something, anything so Alex will allow them to leave the LC cage for the weekend

Taidhg O'Rahilagh Devil at Law

Oi loiked iz judgements coz dey begaan wid blarney loike
“It was spring time in Bermondsey”
And
“On Bluebell Hill”.

Even tho Oim Oirish.

Oi loik Frustrated Writer too. Dat wan as de gift ee does.

Anonymous

You sound like someone from the West Country rather than Ireland. Better luck next time.

Anonymous

Denning was a west country man you dick.

Anonymous

Good for Denning, and your point is relevant how?

Not Amused

The only people building up Lord Denning were Legal Cheek.

We didn’t print the T shirts.

Having built him up, you now want to tear him down and you intend to tear him down using information that you knew, or ought to have known, while you were building him up.

That’s pretty low.

Anonymous

True! Hypocritical Legal Cheek strikes again!

Anonymous

standing on the shoulders of giants

Trendspotter 5000

Slow news day?

Trumpenkrieg

Denning is a colossus whose historical shadow looms over the sort of moral and intellectual pygmies that populate the grievance industry of today.

Anonymous

What happened to the comment from Frustrated Writer?

Frustrated Writer

Tom was glad that for once, Katie’s ire was directed elsewhere. He would feel the effects, though, as usal.

“This comment. Must have been by a man.” Katie scowled. He voice was low and tone angry. Tom could palpably sense the anger. “Thomas. Pass me the comments policy this instant. I want to know if I can delete it”.

Tom looked nervous. “We, erm, don’t have one Katie. We just delete comments that are upset us or are made by Trumpenkreig. I thought you knew?”

Katie pushed her chair out so she could look Tom in the eye. “No, Thomas I didn’t. Normally you and Alex do the random deletions. But this man..” she pointed at her screen as she spat the word, like a foul tasting piece of food she couldn’t wait to get out of her mouth “..has angered me. I must delete his comment”.

Tom spoke without thinking. “I thought it was quite funny. This guy has commented before. Alex was fine with people hearing about his, erm, lifestyle. Can’t you take a joke?” He instantly regretted his remark. Katie must’ve weighed 10 stone soaking wet, but she had a great throwing arm. Tom had not realised that a Macfarlanes bottle opener could be thrown so hard, but the scar on his forehead would remind him of that for weeks to come.

As Tom grabbed a tissue to stem the bleeding, all he could hear were angry clicks that would surely irreparably damage Katie’s mouse, followed a scream of anger as she left the office. Tom retreated to the toilet, sitting in the corner in the foetal position, softly telling himself over and over not to cry, cursing the poster under his breath.

Anonymous

I’m surprised they don’t delete more of your comments, if I’m honest. You pepper your fan fiction with genuinely nasty allegations.

Anonymous

Don’t listen to the haters Frustrated Writer. Keep it going. For a site called Legal Cheek, you’re the only writer providing any real “cheek”. The actual journos on this site lack any wit – when they try to make jokes they fail miserably.

Anonymous

If Legal Cheek were to delete Frustrated Writer’s comments then they’d lose a serious amount of traffic. Why do you think a lot of us are here? For the “quality” of writing of Alex, Tom and KK?
Legal Cheek should replace the “Lord Denning is my Homeboy” t-shirts with “We’re only here the comments section” – an accurate reflection of Legal Cheek’s readership.

Anonymous

Describes them as fiction and then says they are “allegations”. Interesting.

Anonymous

Agree. It just seems one of KK or Tom’s gang has got upset. Frustrated writer: please ignore the moron and keep writing your brilliant pieces!

Anonymous

“I’m surprised they don’t delete more of your comments, if I’m honest”
Wow. What a triggered snowflake with a sense of humour failure. Bet that person is fun at parties.
Keep up the good work Frustrated Writer!

Legion, for we are many

I wonder if Frustrated Writer is one individual or many? Kind of a V for Vendetta character… food for thought.

Anonymous

Fruatrated writer sticking it to the hypocritical, morally bankrupt LC is even more worthy than V for Vendetta’s cause

Anonymous

Denning seems to be a Legal Cheek favourite too.
So given his views, is it time to get rid of the “Denning is my homeboy” Legal Cheek t-shirts then?
And change LC’s Facebook timeline pic with the Denning Starbucks cup?

Anonymous

‘openly gay’ …Am I actually reading this again. This annoyed me when it was printed as a headline and now it’s here again.

Is this as opposed to an openly heterosexual.

Ciaran Goggins

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Anonymous

Is it just me or are Legal Cheek getting quite delete-y these days ?

I thought my comment on Denning was reasonable if a tad acidic. Yet gone it has..

Zan

LC haven’t removed ‘openly gay’ yet. It’s clearly the right thing to do.

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