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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 August 2005, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
Obituary: Lord Lane
Lord Lane
Lord Lane; Arch-defender of the judiciary
Lord Lane of St. Ippollitts, who has died aged 87, had been Lord Chief Justice for more than 10 years when the freeing, by the Court of Appeal in March 1991, of the Birmingham Six brought demands for his removal.

Three years earlier, presiding at a previous appeal by the Six, he had declared that "the longer this case has gone on, the more this court has been convinced that the jury was correct."

When the Six, who had been convicted over the IRA bombings of Birmingham pubs, were released, more than 100 MPs, including a few Tories, signed a Commons motion urging that Lord Lane should resign.

But the Home Secretary, Kenneth Baker, and the Prime Minister, John Major, both supported him.

Yet this one sentence has marred the reputation of a distinguished career.

Geoffrey Lane was called to the Bar after wartime service which won him the Air Force Cross.

Off the bench he stood a little shorter than you'd expect. He spoke up for his fellow judges and took a keen interest in everyone working at the courts.

A rather self-effacing man, he was against allowing cameras into the courts and never gave interviews. As Lord Chief Justice, he succeeded in keeping a low profile for 10 years.

But the release of the Birmingham Six thrust Lord Lane into the limelight. Critics said he had misjudged new evidence.

The Birmingham Six celebrate their release in 1991
The Birmingham Six celebrate their release in 1991
Springing to his defence, the Lord Chancellor. Lord Mackay, said calls for Lord Lane's resignation were wholly unwarranted. He said the judges had done their best on the evidence before them.

But the Lord Chancellor's sentiments were not always reciprocated: Lord Lane bitterly criticised Lord Mackay's plans to reform the legal profession.

"Oppression", he said "creeps up insidiously, step by step."

In evidence to a House of Lords committee, Lord Lane also attacked the government's insistence on keeping the automatic sentence of life imprisonment for murder.

As Head of the Court of Appeal Criminal Division, Lord Lane was responsible for setting guidelines on sentencing. He could be humane and compassionate, while firm on drink-drivers and rapists.

Defended judiciary

On the very day the Birmingham Six were freed Lord Lane and his fellow judges were burying the notion that a man could get away with raping his wife: it was "a common law fiction which has become anachronistic and offensive".

And in freeing a young woman jailed for refusing to give evidence against her former boyfriend, Lord Lane said it was "an object lesson in what happened when a presiding judge failed to listen to the evidence".

Lord Lane appeared increasingly beleaguered as he moved towards the judicial retirement age of 75 in 1992.

But that year, he chaired a committee by the Prison Reform Trust which concluded that the mandatory life sentence for murder was outdated and ripe for potential injustice.

Throughout his public life, Lord Lane was determined to show the world that an independent judiciary was not to be pushed around by politicians and the media.




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