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May 2: Lord Chief Justice

May 1, 2015

NPG P1030; Harry Kenneth Woolf, Baron Woolf by Christian CourrËgesHarry Woolf, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales from 2000 until 2005, was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England on this date in 1933. As Lord Justice of Appeal (appointed 1986) he was responsible for major prison reforms after sending letters to every prisoner and prison official in the country and receiving more than 1,700 replies in the wake of the Strangeways prison riots of April, 1990. “It is much better to insist on some sort of restitution,” he commented, “than make a young man sit on his backside for 23 hours a day doing nothing. Prison should be the last resort.” Woolf was knighted in 1979 and became a baron in 1992. Known as an extremely congenial and popular man, he has nevertheless been aggressive in defense of the judiciary itself, as in his vociferous opposition to the 2004 Immigration and Asylum Bill, which sought, in the name of national security, to remove matters of political asylum and immigration from the jurisdiction of the courts. Woolf’s many roles and positions today include: president (as well as Lord Chief Justice) of the country’s highest court; Chancellor of the Open University of Israel since 2004; judge of the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong since 2003; member of the House of Lords Constitution Committee; chair of the Judging Panel of the FIRST Responsible Capitalism Awards.

“It is a basic duty of the courts to protect citizens against unlawful acts by the state as an essential buttress to democracy.” —Justice Harry Woolf