As this morning’s Times obituary of Sir Henry Brooke notes, in his later life he served as vice-chair of the Bach Commission on Access to Justice. We who were lucky enough to work with him during this short period of his later years wish to reflect on his contribution.
Appointing Sir Henry as the commission’s vice-chair was not a difficult decision. His reputation both as a judge and since his retirement meant that, if issues such as legal aid, social welfare law and public legal education were on the agenda, it was essential that he played a major role. This he did. Over an 18 month period, he was the intellectual heavyweight, the hardest worker, the biggest influence and the greatest inspiration to the rest of us. As well as the architect of both our argument and our eventual recommendations, he provided six appendices that will in their own right remain an essential and rich resource for anyone interested in access to justice for many years and decades to come. His role as vice-chair does not do justice to the breadth of his contribution to the report, which in truth could not have been published without his hard work, patience and erudition.
Sir Henry’s encyclopaedic knowledge was matched only by his generosity in sharing it with others. With considerable patience, he explained and re-explained to Fabian Society staff without any training in or knowledge of the law the intricacies of our muddled justice system. He quietly corrected mistakes, answered questions and sculpted the argument of the final report while allowing others to feel as though it were they who had done so.
In a lifetime devoted to arguing that everyone, however rich or poor, should have an equal right to justice, there are many examples of Sir Henry’s great work. All of us who served on the commission, and the Fabian Society, are grateful that the Right to Justice will form part of Sir Henry’s immense legacy, as something he was proud to have played such a major role in. We were all privileged to work closely with a great man.