Losing Britain’s Greatest Modern Day Jurist

by Saffi Ullah Ahmad

Human rights activists and lawyers are mourning Lord Thomas Bingham of Cornhill who died on Saturday, 11 September, aged 76, following a struggle with cancer. A towering figure, many consider him to have been the foremost British jurist of the modern era.

Thomas Bingham

The son of two doctors, Thomas Bingham read modern history at Balliol College, Oxford and went on to pursue a career at the bar. Recognised as a formidable opponent in the courtroom (he was recently described by a senior barrister as having an ‘alpha-plus’ mind, and by other members of the judiciary as ‘frighteningly clever’), he quickly rose to prominence in the legal world, going on to hold the three top legal posts in the country; Master of the Rolls (1992-96), Lord Chief Justice (1996-2000) and senior Law Lord (2000-2008).

Known for being a staunch advocate of judicial independence and human rights, with a fiercely independent legal mind, he was never one to shy away from challenging the government. In the aftermath of 9/11, and throughout the ‘war on terror,’ his was a prominent voice amongst Law Lords standing against the excesses of the executive. Rejecting the British Government’s arguments relating to anti-terror legislation on numerous occasions, he stood firmly against the indefinite detainment of foreign nationals without charge and the use of evidence obtained by torture in what were highly influential and lengthy judgments that resonated around the world.

As a senior judge, Lord Bingham was instrumental in the introduction of the Human Rights Act (1996), which saw the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) in to British domestic law. He was of the opinion that human rights were non-negotiable and regularly hit back at affronts to the system of due process.

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