SIR HENRY BROOKE: A TRIBUTE TO HIS ONLINE PRESENCE
There are many moving obituaries to Sir Henry Brooke, to his work as a lawyer, a judge and campaigner. Here I want to pay tribute to his online work. It is significant that Sir Henry had a very full and distinguished career and yet I am only talking about the last four years of his life. In those years Sir Henry established a major presence online. Many people came to know him only as an active blogger and tweeter.
The BAILLI front page records how “Sir Henry was a driving force in establishing BAILII and was one of the key instigators of the “Free the Law” movement in the United Kingdom. ” He was responsible for modernising court processes, the publication of electronic judgments and the adoption of medium neutral citation. He was the Chair of BAILLI for over a decade. “Sir Henry was a champion of free access to legal information not only for the UK, but for the whole common law world.”
At the age of 77, with a lifetime of achievement behind him, Sir Henry took up blogging. The first post was on October 15 2015 with a piece on being a Judge’s Marshal in the early 1960s. The blog has many fascinating posts on the history of the law. It would be a tour de force if it was just that. However it was far more:
- An early post was about “The Evolving Use of IT in the Law” showing the steps that had been taken to bring the courts up to date, with a familiar opponent.
“Our main enemy was the Treasury, which persisted with its dogma that, whatever Magna Carta might say, justice in the civil and family courts was a commodity which the Government should sell at cost price to those (except the very poor) who wished – or were constrained – to buy it”
To get an idea of the scope of the blog, look at the categories “Access to Justice”, “Bach Commission”, “Diversity”, “False Accusations”, “Human Rights”, “IT and the Law”, “Judgments”, “Law Reform”, “Laspo Review”, “Legal Aid”, “Life and Death”, “Mediation”, “Stories of Injustice”.
It is difficult to give a full picture of the range, depth and commitment of the writing. In December he was writing on “The case of Liam Allan: failings in prosecution disclosure”. The next post was on his evidence given to the Works and Pensions Committee abouts PIPs
“In my very long experience of the law, I have never encountered any statutory scheme which has caused so much distress to so many vulnerable people. Its architects do not seem to have appreciated just how complicated the scheme is. Its complexity called for the creation of a cadre of high-quality first-instance decision-makers and plenty of publicly funded help for claimants, at any rate during the period while the scheme was settling down. Neither requirement was fulfilled”
He relayed the account of how his writing on the subject had led to a lot of lay people and their advisers contacting him. This had led to the heading “PIPS” at the top of his website.
Sir Henry did not mince his words, in PIPs and ESAs: Another Disgraceful Story
“Readers of these blogs will know I have been telling stories of the injustices caused to severely disabled people by the incompetence, delay and wholly avoidable mistakes they have been encountering in their struggles with the new assessment arrangements. “
The range, depth and sheer authority of the blog is breathtaking. On its second anniversary in October last year he wrote:-
“The site has fulfilled all my expectations, and I greatly enjoy the messages I receive from time to time on different topics about which I have been writing. My purpose has never been to write complicated legal tracts – though I suppose I would still be capable of that, if I tried. Instead, it is to humanise the law – to explain complex issues as simply as I can, and to try and write about interesting things, whether in the immediate present or the distant past. And there is still plenty to write about”
Whether by intuition, or by wisdom, Sir Henry understood Twitter. Used well it can be a useful source of information, camaraderie, and even friendship. Sir Henry achieved that very rare thing on Twitter – he gained affection. Sir Henry started his Twitter account in January 2013. There are 2,130 tweets, all of them significant. In addition to the burning issue of access to justice, he would interact with everyone. When a friend (and local judge) tweeted about her father’s 80th birthday he sent greetings from one octogenarian to another. When I tweeted about the virtues of a social enterprise cafe and park on the Gray’s Inn Road, he responded by praising it and stating he had used it as a venue for receptions for one of the campaign organisations he was involved in. This social interaction is in addition to all the tweets on access to justice and the numerous other causes he championed. On the 24th January of this year he responded to a tweet from Del Hunter that we are all in need of Law Centres “Quite right too. I was at their last AGM and heard all about the wonderful work they do.”
However the remarkable thing is the affection he gained. This is certainly not automatic, or even easy, on Twitter. Twitter provides the demonstrable evidence that Sir Henry touched the lives of many people.
On January 25th he tweeted
“My chapter on Criminal Justice in Appendix 5 to the Bach Report evidences the huge scale of the problem. I agree with Chair of Bar Council that savage financial cuts to justice bodies form a big part of the cause.”
On January 26th
“My tweets will be stilled for a while: cardiac valve surgery on 29 Jan. A “Like” will be interpreted as goodwill, or as an imaginary candle.”
The evidence of the affection he gathered can be seen in his penultimate tweet on the 28th January.
“1/2 I am very touched by the 3500 gestures of goodwill before my cardiac valve surgery tomorrow, plus 170 retweets or messages. Thank u all”
“2/2 Tomorrow afternoon my son Nick will post news from the hospital on his
@moonbroth Twitter site. I hope it isn’t postponed…”
3,500 GESTURES OF GOODWILL
I think that says it all. (In fact it now stands at 4,300 gestures of goodwill)
A FITTING TRIBUTE
I was going to end on the tweet from his son Nick on January 30th.
“I am sorry to have to tell you that
@HenryBrooke1 didn’t make it. Barts staff have been wonderful, and did everything they possibly could, but the surgeon says my Dad’s heart was just too big: this won’t come as a surprise to anybody who knew him. Rest in peace, Dad.”
However I couldn’t stop there. Today Hackney Law Centre sent out a tweet with an email they had received over the weekend.