Blue Plaque – Leslie George Scarman

Leslie George Scarman, Baron Scarman, OBE, PC 1911-2004 Judge and Barrister

In 2012, his plaque was erected on 11 Lammas Lane where he lived from 1950-1959. The plaque is visible below the chimney when viewed from Wolsey Road.

Leslie George Scarman was a judge and barrister who served as a Law Lord until his retirement in 1986.

He was born in Streatham but grew up on the border of Sussex and Surrey. He was educated at Radley College and Brasenose College, Oxford, of which he later became an honorary fellow. At Oxford, he obtained a first in Honour Moderations in 1932, and in Classical Greats in 1934. He was called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1936.

War service in the RAF from 1940 to 1945 interrupted his practice. He rose to the rank of wing commander and served as personal staff officer to Lord Tedder during the Mediterranean and North-West European campaigns. He was present with Lord Tedder when German surrender was accepted in Berlin.

Baron Scarman

He returned to law in 1945, practising from Fountain Court Chambers in London and became a QC in 1957, and a High Court judge in 1961. He joined the Court of Appeal in 1973 and was Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, a Law Lord, from 1977 until his retirement.

In 1965 the Labour Lord Chancellor, Lord Gardiner, set up the Law Commission to rationalise statute law and to propose amendments and codifications in all areas of the law. Scarman was appointed the first chairman (1965-1973) and the success of the commission was in no small part due to Scarman’s great talent for public relations and it is a tribute to him that the Law Commission is now greatly valued by the judiciary and Parliament. It is in this field of statutory law reform which will, perhaps, be considered in years to come as his greatest contribution to British life.

In August 1969 Scarman was appointed chairman of the tribunal set up to investigate the civil disturbances in Northern Ireland between March and August 1969. This was to be the first of four tribunals over which he presided – the others being the Red Lion Square inquiry of 1975, the Grunwick inquiry of 1977 and the Brixton inquiry into the race riots of 1981. It is, however, the Brixton inquiry for which he is probably best known. A night of rioting in which 300 people were injured, houses and other premises damaged and vehicles wrecked caused a feeling of panic in large areas of the country and a sense that race relations had been set back many years.

He had shown himself to be an accomplished chairman who could be relied upon by governments of all political persuasions to ease public disquiet about deeply distressing events by his impartial conduct and his painstakingly meticulous inquiries. Nevertheless, Scarman, with the common touch, produced insights into the causes of the riots and the long-standing unease between police and the black community which were to form something of a watershed in the history of race relations in Britain. It was obvious that things could not remain as they were and Scarman pointed the way forward. Moreover his findings were judiciously couched in a manner to make them acceptable to the vast majority on every side. It was an achievement of enormous diplomacy.

After entering the House of Lords the more liberal aspects of his character dominated. He became Chancellor of the University of Warwick, president of the British Institute of Human Rights, and worked on behalf of the Prince’s Trust, the Birmingham Six and Charter 88 amongst many other projects.

He was created an OBE in 1944, knighted in 1961, made a Privy Councillor in 1973, and raised to the Peerage in 1977 as Baron Scarman of Quatt in the County of Shropshire.

He married Ruth Wright in 1947, with whom he had one son. He died in 2004 in Kent, aged 93.