WORLD-OBITS-L ArchivesArchiver > WORLD-OBITS > 2007-06 > 1181319167
From: "Peter McCrae" <>
Subject: [W-OBITS] MCCOWAN: Anthony James Denys McCowan 3.jul,2003
Date: Fri, 8 Jun 2007 17:12:47 +0100
Sir Anthony McCowan
Last Updated: 10:19pm BST 08/07/2003
Sir Anthony McCowan, who died on July 3 aged 75, was a Lord Justice of
Appeal from 1989 to 1997 and before that a highly regarded barrister and
Judge in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, specialising in heavy
>From 1991 to 1995, McCowan was Senior Presiding Judge of England and Wales
and undertook in that role a huge administrative responsibility as well as
continuing his judicial work sitting in the Court of Appeal.
Forty years previously, he had been a founder member of the Bow Group, the
association of Conservative graduates intent on breaking the monopoly which
socialist ideas then had in intellectual circles. Geoffrey Howe, William
Rees-Mogg and Norman St John Stevas were among those who attended the first
meeting in 1951 at Bow in east London. McCowan was also there, and later
wrote the group's first publication, Coloured Peoples in Britain.
But as one who took all his commitments seriously, McCowan soon realised
that it would be difficult successfully to combine politics with the law.
Although he featured briefly on Central Office's list of approved
candidates, he decided to concentrate his energies at the Bar. Preferring to
deploy his incisive intellect (he had been a scholar at Brasenose, Oxford)
in the common law, he went on to become one of the outstanding criminal
advocates of his day, and in 1981 was appointed to the High Court bench.
In 1985 he presided in the trial of Clive Ponting, the senior Defence
Ministry civil servant accused of leaking information about the sinking of
the General Belgrano during the Falklands War to Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP
Ponting was acquitted under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act, despite
remarks in McCowan's summing up which, as The Daily Telegraph said in a
leading article, "seemed to lean heavily towards the prosecution case".
Ponting's defence had been that his actions were to save Parliament from
being misled and were therefore in the interests of the State (a defence
under the Act); but McCowan ruled that the interests of the State must mean
the interests of the government of the day, to which the Civil Service was
bound by a relationship of trust.
During the 1980s McCowan also presided in a number of highly publicised IRA
trials. He was seen as a first-rate jury judge - thoughtful, rarely
intervening and always bang on point. He could be testy if counsel made
inappropriate submissions, but he saw problems with great simplicity, could
work at great speed and was dependable for the heaviest criminal work.
After his promotion to the Court of Appeal, McCowan was one of the judges on
the appeal of the Maguire Seven in 1991; the appellants had spent 15 years
in prison after being jailed at the Old Bailey for running an IRA bomb
Following an 18-day hearing, the judges allowed their appeal on the sole
ground that traces of nitroglycerine found on their hands and gloves at
their north London home, which formed the basis for their convictions, could
have been the result of innocent contamination. They rejected five other
grounds of appeal, in particular claims that the prosecution scientists had
deliberately withheld relevant evidence.
Anthony James Denys McCowan was born on January 12 1928 at Georgetown,
British Guiana, the son of a magistrate whose father had emigrated from
Scotland at the end of the 19th Century.
Young Anthony won a scholarship to Epsom College and in 1940 crossed the
Atlantic in a ship which came under attack from enemy aircraft. From Epsom
he won an Open History scholarship to Brasenose, Oxford, and then switched
to Law. As an undergraduate he was an active member of the university
Called to the Bar by Gray's Inn in 1951 as an Atkin Scholar, McCowan entered
chambers at 1 Crown Office Row in the Temple as the pupil of Stanley Rees,
later also a judge in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court.
McCowan quickly acquired a busy junior practice, specialising in crime,
personal injury and planning law, and practising in London and on the South
East circuit. Meticulous in his preparation, he was known for his mastery of
his brief, his astute and devastating cross-examinations and the economy of
his advocacy. He excelled at asking all the questions up to the critical
one - inducing the judge then to interject and so lend it added emphasis.
He took Silk in 1972, became leader of the South Eastern Circuit in 1978,
and also became a caring and diligent head of chambers. He became deputy
chairman of the East Sussex Quarter Sessions in 1969 and a Recorder in 1971.
As a High Court judge, McCowan denied the right of a former law student to
contest the Prime Minister's Finchley seat as "Margaret Thatcher" for the
"Conservationist" party during the general election of 1983. McCowan said
the legal fight by the man had come too late. "It is apparent that his aim
is to make a farce of the election process because he boasts of it in his
In the Court of Appeal, McCowan was one of the judges who ordered a new
inquest into the death of Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging
under Blackfriars Bridge, who was originally thought to have committed
McCowan also upheld a fine on Private Eye for publishing articles about
Sonia Sutcliffe, the wife of the Yorkshire Ripper, while her libel action
against them was pending. And he decided that a genuine fear of becoming
infected with Aids could amount to a reasonable excuse for drink-driving
suspects refusing to submit to a breath test.
A short, boyish-looking man, with jet-black hair, McCowan had a wicked sense
of humour behind his forbidding exterior. He was a member of the Parole
Board from 1982 to 1984 and of the Crown Court Rule Committee from 1982 to
He was knighted in 1981 and sworn of the Privy Council in 1989.
He married, in 1961, Sue Harvey; they had two sons and a daughter.
|[W-OBITS] MCCOWAN: Anthony James Denys McCowan 3.jul,2003 by "Peter McCrae" <>|