John Donaldson, Baron Donaldson of Lymington
Early and private life
He was born at 6 King Street, St Marylebone, London, the son of Malcolm Donaldson (1884-1973), consultant gynaecologist, and his first wife, Evelyn Helen Marguerite, née Gilroy. His father was a Harley Street
Donaldson was called to the Bar
in 1946 as a Harmsworth Scholar at the Middle Temple
. He joined the chambers of Sir Henry Willink, QC at 3 Essex Court and built a successful tort
practice. He was made a Queen's Counsel
in 1961, and became a High Court
Judge when he was appointed to the Queen's Bench Division
in 1966 at the age of 45. He remained the youngest High Court judge for a number of years.
In his various roles, Donaldson was involved in many high-profile cases from the 1970s onwards. He presided over the trials of the Guildford Four
in 1975 and the Maguire Seven
in 1976, and was later criticised in Sir John May
's interim report of his inquiry into the miscarriages of justice
. The inquiry by Sir John May into the injustice suffered by the Maguires said that Mr Justice Donaldson, as he was then, had failed to appreciate that the sudden emergence of new evidence on the last day of the trial removed the whole basis of the prosecution case. He also allowed inadmissible evidence to be presented to the jury, the report added.
At the trials, he achieved a degree of notoriety for declaring in his closing remarks that he wished the men had been indicted for high treason
, which still carried the death penalty, rather than for murder, which by then no longer carried the death penalty.
These remarks bore an uncanny resemblance to the words of another leading judge of the era, Sir Nigel Bridge
, who commented in a similar IRA-based miscarriage of justice, the Birmingham Six trial
, that he wished that he could still hang murderers.
Donaldson refused to prevent newspapers from publishing the Spycatcher
memoir of Peter Wright
in 1988, against government policy; and he ruled in 1991 that the then Home Secretary
, Kenneth Baker
was in contempt of court
over an extradition case, in which a man was deported to Zaire while the case was still pending, contrary to a court order.
After retiring as a judge in 1992, he wrote reports regarding two maritime accidents involving the grounding of oil tankers and subsequent spills of crude oil: the grounding of the MV Braer
off the Shetland Islands
in January 1993, in which 85,000 tonnes
of oil escaped; and the grounding of the Sea Empress
at the entrance to Milford Haven
in February 1996, and subsequent escape of more than 70,000 tonnes of oil off the Pembrokeshire
Coat of arms of John Donaldson, Baron Donaldson of Lymington
- ^ Profile with reference to Guildford Four, theguardian.com; Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- ^ Profile, thepeerage.com; Retrieved 28 March 2016.
- ^ "No. 51247". The London Gazette. 22 February 1988. p. 2095.
- ^ BBC Obituary, 2005
- ^ BBC TV A Great British Injustice: The Maguire Story a great british injustice
- ^https://web.archive.org/web/20050415132644/http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld199900/ldbills/126/2000126.htm[bare URL]
- ^http://www.cracroftspeerage.co.uk/online/content/lp1958%20d.htm[bare URL]
Last edited on 3 June 2021, at 18:22
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