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His Honour John Baker (1925-2016)

by Bryan Gibson

John Baker was one of those authors who felt that it was important to set out his life and career path for posterity and for the benefit of others following a career in the law (and in his case politics). I well-remember him inviting me (as he famously did the acquitted former party leader Jeremy Thorpe) to dine in the splendour of Liberal party headquarters where it was clear that he was treated as something of an elder statesman. This despite never achieving his ambition of a seat in Parliament, especially in his equally splendid adopted home town of Richmond-on-Thames, where he stood twice in General Elections (and three times in all).

It is through John that I can claim other tenuous connections to high profile events in the law such as the trial and acquittal of John McVicar, the England rugby international Gary Rees, and the conviction of Rosslyn Park’s James Cowie (both involving violence within the game). And to the nomination as presidential hopeful of John F Kennedy, which in part stemmed from John’s direct advice along with Shirley Williams and (Tory) Nicholas Scott that Adlai Stevenson should not stand for the USA Presidency a third time.

Indeed he was a raconteur par excellence concerning these and other scenarios, legal, political and personal many of which found their way into his book Ballot Box to Jury Box, though I do recall he quickly heeded this editor’s deferential advice when it came to what could properly appear in print concerning the Thorpe trial. He had also at one time suffered that bane of the work of judges, officials and others, the (exceedingly) persistent litigant. I recall that again there was subtle re-working and once the story was on paper a kind of closure. We also had a shared interest in the workings and reorganization of the criminal courts in particular.

John Baker was a delight to work with, a gentleman in the true sense of the word who made friends easily and won-over people to his view with the skill of the seasoned advocate who never pushes too hard, all of whom will miss his incisive wit and – for such a senior judge and a power behind the Liberal party throne – friendly and self-effacing manner.

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