Very rarely in history have people got together because of a common interest in a judge – and when they have it has usually been to conspire to do something nasty to him. Lord Denning is an exception. The social networking site Facebook has a thriving discussion group in his honour that, at the time of writing, has 7,148 members. (The group “Lord Denning is an Arse” has only 41 members.)
The “Lord Denning (M.R.) Appreciation Society” (the “M.R.” stands for Master of the Rolls, an ancient judicial position), explains its devotion to the great judge with a paragraph that begins: “Lord Denning has made countless memorable judgments that have eased the pain of law school readings for millions.” It goes on to say: “While you might not like his reason, you gotta love his rhyme!”
Lord Denning of Whitchurch (1899-1999) was a man of monumental influence over the development of English law, both in its substance and style. Born in the 19th-century, commonly nominated as the most influential judge of the 20th-century, Lord Denning had a substantial impact across many areas of law. Once described as “Ambassador-at-Large for the common law”, he delivered more than 2,000 reported judgments and delivered more lectures and talks than any other judge ever has, nationally and internationally.
Christened Alfred Thompson Denning, known to his friends as Tom, he was a mathematical scholar at Oxford and maths teacher at Winchester before he embarked on a distinguished career as a barrister. During his 38 years in high judicial office – he retired at 83 – he reformed areas of law such as law of contract, unmarried partners and judicial review. By the end of his career, experienced barristers were appearing before him who hadn’t been born when he became a judge.