Last week we learned of the passing of HH John Dowse, retired Circuit Judge who sat in the North East and former Deputy Head of Chambers at 9 St John Street, Manchester. A distinguished and successful career.
For many of us, it is not the judicial initials that went alongside the His Honour title that we knew John by, but simply “JD”. And when the world lost JD, we truly did lose a fabulous man.
JD taught me what it meant to be a part of, and contribute to, the success of chambers. It is only through the hard work and excellent judgement of people like JD that chambers can work as a business. It is by JD’s example that I realised that chambers is also a family.
Shortly after I joined chambers he became the first Deputy Head of Chambers. He had recently organised the move from our previous premises to 9 SJS. I served with him on a management committee that dealt with moving our former senior clerk from a percentage to a salary, worked with him when he drafted the basis for the chambers’ constitution and assisted him as he transformed the way that chambers was run. He laid the foundations for the success that chambers was to enjoy as a business for the twenty years after he left to go on the Bench.
But he would never have wanted chambers to be “corporate”. On the day that I was offered tenancy in chambers, after I had called my mum and dad to let them know the good news, my pupil master told me that JD wanted to speak to me in his room about some work I had done for him. Back to reality. I wandered down the corridor to JD’s room, knocked on the door and went in. He was in his usual position at the head of a boardroom style table. In front of him was a bottle of champagne, half a dozen glasses and the same number of criminal practitioners standing around. He popped the cork and welcomed me to the family.
I was to spend a lot of time over the next eight years or so in that room, talking to JD. And laughing with him. John was a master of deploying pantomime-esque feigned ignorance to comic effect. His eyebrows would pop up, his voice become that little more Southern, giving him the every appearance of one of Fagin’s boys, overacting their innocence. I imagine that most people would have the word “mischievous” in their descriptions of John.
He had photos of his children in that room. It was always obvious that the photos were not there as mere decoration, nor were they there because that is what people do, but because JD wanted his family with him in some way at all times. Whenever I saw John after he went on the bench, it would not be long before he gave me an update on something in the life of at least one of his children. Never in a boring way. Never in a boastful way. Just out of irrepressible pride in his kids.
He was the pupil master of my contemporary and friend Rachel Wedderspoon (now Employment Judge Wedderspoon). Rachel and JD were as close as family to each other, and in many ways she has followed in his career footsteps. He would have taken no credit for her success but basked in pride.
When I was asked to be the Deputy Head of Chambers my first thought was of JD. I had big shoes to fill. If I did half as a good a job as he did, I will have done well.
Whenever I saw JD he would greet me with a hug. A man that I had only spent seven years or so with in chambers, a Circuit Judge, would give me a big hug when he saw me. Almost as if we were family…
My thoughts are very much with his family. His wife Elaine and his children, Francesca, Philippa and Jonathan. I hope it will be some comfort to them to know that mischievous, irrepressible JD will be missed by many of us.