The Lord Hoffmann
|Second Senior Lord of Appeal in Ordinary|
10 January 2007 - 21 April 2009
|The Lord Nicholls of Birkenhead|
|The Lord Hope of Craighead|
|Lord of Appeal in Ordinary|
21 February 1995 - 21 April 2009
|The Lord Collins of Mapesbury|
|Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong|
12 January 1998
Leonard Hubert Hoffmann
8 May 1934
Cape Town, Union of South Africa
Well known for his lively decisions and willingness to break with convention, he has had an especially large impact on the interpretation of contracts, shareholder actions in UK company law, in restricting tort liability for public authorities, human rights and intellectual property law, in particular patents. Currently, he serves as a Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong.
Born 8 May 1934 in Cape Town, Leonard Hubert Hoffmann was the son of a well-known solicitor who co-founded what has become Africa's largest law firm, Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs.
Between 1961 and 1973, he was Stowell Civil Law Fellow at University College, Oxford, where he is an Honorary Fellow.
In 1963, he published the first edition of The South African Law of Evidence, a work which became the standard text and which has since been published in four editions. After being called to the Bar from Gray's Inn in 1964, Hoffmann became one of the most sought after and highly priced barristers of his generation and was quickly made a judge, having taken silk on 19 April 1977.
He was appointed to the Courts of Appeal of Jersey and Guernsey on 20 November 1980 and stayed in office until 1985 and was appointed to the High Court of Justice, Chancery Division from 1985 to 1992. On 23 July 1985, he was knighted upon his appointment, as is customary for High Court judges.
He was subsequently appointed to be a Lord Justice of Appeal on 1 October 1992 and stayed in office until 1995. In 1995, Hoffmann was appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (more commonly known as a Law Lord) and thereby raised to the peerage as Baron Hoffmann, of Chedworth in the County of Gloucestershire.
Twinsectra v Yardley (trust law) and MacNiven v Westmoreland (tax law) are prominent examples of his judicial positions. Both cases led to differences of view between him and Lord Millett. Hoffmann gave the leading judgment in Investors Compensation Scheme Ltd v West Bromwich Building Society, in which he set out five principles for interpreting contracts.
Hoffmann's failure to declare his links with Amnesty International before ruling on whether Augusto Pinochet was immune from prosecution led to the unprecedented setting aside of a House of Lords judgment. He later commented to the Daily Telegraph that "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."
Hoffmann was involved in three important judgments of the House of Lords concerning terrorism: Secretary of State for the Home Department v Rehman  UKHL 47; A v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKHL 56; and A v. Secretary of State for the Home Department  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, Hoffmann took a robust stand (joining the majority of judges in the decision) against the executive in the Belmarsh case, A v. SSHD  UKHL 56. In this case 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  UKHL 71, Hoffmann said:
The use of torture is dishonourable. It corrupts and degrades the state which uses it and the legal system which accepts it.
A selection of his extra-judicial writings:
Lord Hoffmann, a former Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, 79