Pen Portraits – Lord Phillips
09 Wednesday Mar 2011
Born Nicholas Addison Phillips on 21 January 1938, Lord Phillips was evacuated to Canada during the Second World War before returning to study at Bryanston School in Dorset, where, until recently, he also fulfilled the role of Chairman of Governors. He then undertook his National Service with the Royal Navy before progressing to Kings College, Cambridge to read Law.
Having graduated from Cambridge with a First, Lord Phillips was called to the Bar in 1962 as a Middle Temple Harmsworth scholar. He completed a pupillage with Essex Court chambers. Perhaps as a result of his time in the Navy, his career at the Bar centred on maritime and shipping law. In 1973 he was appointed as Junior Counsel to the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury in Admiralty Matters before taking silk in 1978.
In 1989 Lord Phillips was appointed to the position of High Court Judge where he won praise for his skilful handling of two high-profile and complex fraud cases: one being the Robert Maxwell pension fund fraud and the other involving the investment company, Barlow Clowes. Following his accession to the Court of Appeal in 1999 he went on to preside over one of General Pinochet’s appeals, finding that the former Chilean dictator had no immunity for extraditable crimes. Despite these high profile cases, it is perhaps his chairmanship of the inquiry into the BSE crisis during the years of 1998-2000 that he is most noted for. Lord Phillips has himself described this as his “most gruelling task…by a long way” and has, on more than one occasion, been praised for his scrupulous fairness, his innovation, attention to detail and patience while he was chair.
In 2000 Lord Phillips succeeded Lord Woolf as Master of the Rolls and later in 2005 as Lord Chief Justice. During this time he established himself as a strong advocate for a modern judiciary and justice system, appearing on the BBC’s Newsnight in an attempt to highlight the problems within the civil justice system. Somewhat more controversially he also went undercover as a drink-driving offender to take part in a community prevention scheme to clean up a council estate, hoping to illustrate the efficacy of ‘community payback’.
In 2008 Lord Phillips became Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary to then soon become the first President of the Supreme Court in 2009, a post in which he remains to this day.
Not one to shy from controversy, Lord Phillips has commented on a variety of contentious subjects in the past. Stating that there was no reason why Sharia law could not be used to resolve disputes between Muslims, provided the sanctions were drawn from, and complied with, the laws of England and Wales is one such example of this. He has also openly defended the Human Rights Act, calling it “a vital part of the foundation of our fight against terrorism” and was responsible for handing down the judgment requiring the Director of Public Prosecutions to clarify with certainty the law on assisted suicide.
Lord Phillips’ Honours are many and varied, including being a member of the Advisory Council of the Institute of International and Comparative Law, President of the British Maritime Law Association, a previous Trustee of the Magna Carta Trust and Chancellor of Bournemouth University. He was also made an honorary bencher of Grays Inn and has received honorary degrees from the University of Exeter (1998), Birmingham University (2003), London University (2004) and the International Institute of Maritime Law. He is also a liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Drapers and of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights.
At 71 Lord Phillips is still extremely fit, enjoying cycling, trekking and the occasional ice breaking swim in the ponds of his local Hampstead Heath.