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Richard Orme Wilberforce

(1907—2003) judge


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Lord Wilberforce (1907–2003) was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford. He was called to the Middle Temple in 1932, appointed a Chancery judge in 1961 and, in 1964, was elevated to the House of Lords, where he remained until 1982. As an appellate judge, he stood for level-headedness, detachment, and the clear, common sense application of principle. Though he was essentially a cautious decision-maker, he was not opposed to common law innovation. Among his memorable judgments are DPP v Lynch (1975), in which he argued that duress could amount to a defence in a charge of aiding and abetting murder; McLoughlin v O'Brian (1983), in which he ruled that someone not at the scene of an accident could nevertheless recover damages for ‘nervous shock’; and Bromley LBC v Greater London Council (1983), in which it was held that the Greater London Council's ‘cheap fares’ scheme for London bus and tube transport breached its fiduciary duty to ratepayers. It is somewhat ironic, given Wilberforce's reputation for judicial restraint, that the ‘two-stage test’ for negligence which he expounded in Anns v Merton (1978) was eventually declared by the House of Lords to be an impermissible piece of judicial legislation. Although Wilberforce himself dealt firmly with law-making initiatives in the Court of Appeal, he often expressed his admiration for judicial innovators and was prepared to support their initiatives when those initiatives were taken up by Parliament. In retirement he lent his support to numerous legal and human rights reforms.

From The New Oxford Companion to Law in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Law.


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