Leonard Hoffmann, Baron Hoffmann

Leonard Hubert "Lenny" Hoffmann, Baron Hoffmann, PC (Chinese: 賀輔明, born 8 May 1934 in Cape Town, South Africa) is a retired senior British judge. He served as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary from 1995 to 2009. Well known for his lively decisions and willingness to break with convention, he has had an especially large impact on shareholder actions in UK company law, in restricting tort liability for public authorities, human rights and on intellectual property law, in particular patents. He is also a non-permanent judge of Hong Kong SAR Court of Final Appeal.

Born in Cape Town, Lord Hoffmann was the son of a well-known solicitor. He was educated at the University of Cape Town and then attended The Queen's College, Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar, where he studied for the BCL and won the Vinerian Scholarship. After being called to the Bar from Gray’s Inn in 1964, he became one of the most sought after and highly-priced barristers of his generation and was quickly made a judge, having been made QC in 1977.

He was a Judge in the Courts of Appeal of Jersey and Guernsey from 1980 to 1985 and a Judge of the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division from 1985 to 1992. He was subsequently a Lord Justice of Appeal from 1992 to 1995. In 1995[1] Hoffmann was appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and thereby created a life peer by the title of Baron Hoffmann, of Chedworth in the County of Gloucestershire.

Twinsectra v Yardley (trust law) and MacNiven v Westmoreland (tax law) are prominent examples of Lord Hoffmann's judicial positions. Both cases led to differences of view between him and Lord Millett.

His failure to declare his links with Amnesty International before ruling on whether General Augusto Pinochet was immune from prosecution led to the unprecedented setting aside of a House of Lords judgment. He later went on to comment "The fact is I'm not biased. I am a lawyer. I do things as a judge. The fact that my wife works as a secretary for Amnesty International is, as far as I am concerned, neither here nor there," he told the Daily Telegraph newspaper..

He retired as a Law Lord on 20 April 2009.[2] He subsequently joined the Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary, University of London, as Honorary Professor of Intellectual Property Law.[3]


Opinions in terrorism cases

Lord Hoffmann was involved in three important judgments of the House of Lords concerning terrorism: Secretary of State for the Home Department v Rehman [2001] UKHL 47; A v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] UKHL 56; and A v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2005] UKHL 71. In Rehman, at para 62, he wrote

Postscript. I wrote this speech some three months before the recent events in New York and Washington. They are a reminder that in matters of national security, the cost of failure can be high. This seems to me to underline the need for the judicial arm of government to respect the decisions of ministers of the Crown on the question of whether support for terrorist activities in a foreign country constitutes a threat to national security. It is not only that the executive has access to special information and expertise in these matters. It is also that such decisions, with serious potential results for the community, require a legitimacy which can be conferred only by entrusting them to persons responsible to the community through the democratic process. If the people are to accept the consequences of such decisions, they must be made by persons whom the people have elected and whom they can remove.

It appeared that he was willing to defer to the executive in matters concerning national security in the fairly long tradition of English judges deferring to the executive in such matters, including Lord Denning in ex-parte Hosenball. However in 2004 Lord Hoffmann took a robust stand (joining the majority of judges in the decision) against the executive in the Belmarsh case, A v. SSHD [2004] UKHL 56. In this case Lord Hoffmann wrote at para 97 that,

The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.

In A v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2005] UKHL 71, Lord Hoffmann said,

The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it.

Selected list of cases decided

  • Re Augustus Barnett & Son Ltd [1986] BCLC 170
  • Re D'Jan of London Ltd
  • William Sindall plc v Cambridgeshire County Council [1994] 1 WLR 1016
  • O'Neill v Phillips
  • Re Saul D Harrison & Sons plc [1995] 1 BCLC 14, [1994] BCC 475,
  • Bruton v London & Quadrant Housing Trust [2000] 1 A.C. 406
  • Standard Chartered Bank v Pakistan National Shipping Corp (No 2) [2003] 1 AC 959.
  • Co-operative Insurance Society Ltd v Argyll Stores [1997] UKHL 17.
  • Secretary of State for the Home Department v. Rehman [2001] UKHL 47
  • A v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2004] UKHL 56
  • A v. Secretary of State for the Home Department [2005] UKHL 71
  • OBG Ltd v Allan [2007] UKHL 21
  • Transfield Shipping Inc v Mercator Shipping Inc or The Achilleas [2008] UKHL 48


External links

Order of precedence
Anthony Mason
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal
Hong Kong order of precedence
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal
Succeeded by
Gerard Brennan
Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal

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