December 1: Lord Kerr of Tonaghmore, the longest serving justice on the UK’s supreme court and one of its most progressive judges, has died at the age of 72, only two months after retiring.
The president of the supreme court, Lord Reed, paid tribute at the end of Tuesday morning’s court session to a “kind and modest man of the utmost integrity”, the Guardian reported.
Kerr, a father of two, had retired to his home in Northern Ireland after serving on the supreme court since it was established in 2009. He had previously been a law lord when the House of Lords was the country’s highest appeal court.
As a young man in Newry, he recalled later, he had ambitions to attend Oxford University but he was never entered for the exam because “my school felt that that was a slightly ridiculous aspiration”.
Instead, Kerr read law at Queen’s University, Belfast, was called to the bar in 1970 and worked throughout the Troubles, first as a barrister, then judge and finally lord chief justice of Northern Ireland at a time when judges were targeted by the IRA.
Reed told the supreme court: “Brian Kerr had the most distinguished of legal careers … He became a high court judge at the age of 44, at a time when the decision to serve as a judge in Northern Ireland required courage and a strong sense of duty.
“Through his judgments and during hearings, Brian demonstrated his strong and instinctive sense of justice, and his thoughtful and principled approach to resolving legal problems … [He] was a deeply valued colleague, a kind and modest man of the utmost integrity, who will be deeply missed by all those who had the pleasure of working with him.”
In an interview with the Guardian immediately after retiring, Lord Kerr defended the independence of the judiciary and said the last thing the country needed was a government in which ministers exercise “unbridled power”.
Shortly before leaving the supreme court, he also delivered a significant and unanimous ruling overturning the legality of interning Gerry Adams, the former Sinn Féin leader, nearly 50 years ago.
There were numerous tributes to his work and decisions from lawyers and human rights organisations.
Dinah Rose QC, the president of Magdalen College, Oxford, who appeared regularly before the supreme court, said: “He was a brilliant, humane and wise judge, always sensitive to the effects of legal decisions on the vulnerable. Profoundly committed to human rights. And the kindest, most generous and delightful man, with an impish sense of fun.”