BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Thursday, 9 December, 2004, 17:58 GMT
Obituary: Lord Scarman

Lord Scarman
Lord Scarman: The people's judge

Lord Scarman, a former High Court judge and Lord of Appeal, will be best remembered for the four major inquiries he conducted into violent incidents of British public life.

The first, into the troubles in Belfast and Londonderry in 1969, took two years, and the 250-page report found that there was no evidence of any plans for an armed insurrection.

But his inquiry led to the arrival of British troops into the province.

He later held an inquiry into the 1974 riot in Red Lion Square, in London, after rival left and right-wing demonstrations over immigration rules led to a man's death.

Scarman's report blamed the International Marxist Group for starting the dispute, by deliberately attacking the police.


The trouble at Grunwicks, at Willesden in north-west London, followed the sacking of nearly 200 strikers demanding the right to belong to a union.

Scarman's report recommended their reinstatement.

Arriving for work on the Londonderry inquiry in 1967
Arriving for work on the Londonderry inquiry in 1967
But the inquiry into the Brixton riots of 1981 was perhaps the high point of Lord Scarman's career. His methods angered some lawyers, but his sense of public relations was widely praised.

Some black people had threatened to boycott the inquiry, but he won them over by going on to the streets and meeting people, and accepting that social conditions in the area were a relevant factor.

He considered racial disadvantage to be a fact of British life, and wanted something done about it.

His report found that the police and the local community were equally to blame for the riots. His recommendations for more black police, changes in policing methods, with local liaison committees, were largely carried out.

But he also wanted independent investigation of complaints against the police, and he was not so successful there.

People and politics

Leslie George Scarman was born in Streatham, so he could bring local knowledge to the Brixton inquiry.

He was educated at public school and at Oxford, where he gained a double first in Classics.

Meeting the people of Brixton in 1981
Meeting the people of Brixton in 1981
He served in the RAF in World War II, after being called to the Bar in 1936.

He became a QC in 1957, a High Court judge in 1961, a Lord Justice of Appeal eight years later, and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1977, when he also became a Life Peer.

He also became the first chairman of the Law Commission.

Lord Scarman has been described both as a people's judge and as a political judge, the last to which he had no strong objection, though he insisted his politics never intruded on his work.

He favoured repeal of the Official Secrets Act, and was a strong advocate of a Freedom of Information Act and a Bill of Rights, incorporating the European Human Rights Convention into the laws of the United Kingdom.

He lived to see that wish fulfilled.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific