Century of Endeavour

Additional Related Papers (post-millennium)

(c) Roy Johnston 2008

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)

picture PO'H from Guardian

Paul O'Higgins 1927-2008.

Above photo is from the Guardian. In what follows, I have added some comments of my own, in italics, based on contemporary experience of the TCD student Left, and on subsequent contacts over his lifetime. I first encountered him at school. RJ.

Exceptional Cambridge academic and mentor

From the Irish Times, March 5, 2008:

Professor Paul O'Higgins who died on March 13th, 2008 at 80 years of age, was an internationally renowned academic, as well as a teacher and mentor of incomparable talent and achievements.

For much of his professionally active life, he was based in Cambridge University in England - initially as a research student at Clare College (1957-1959) and thereafter as a fellow at Christ's College and as a lecturer and then reader in the university. Many of the great and the good in English public life were inspired by him as students before going on to careers in politics and the law, as well as into academia around the world.

What perhaps for many of those who studied under him, and their friends and companions, is most memorable was the unstinting hospitality he showed. Tutorials invariably were embellished with tea and cakes. Every Sunday afternoon, during term time, he and his wife Rachel, hosted afternoon tea for what at the time could be up to 20 or 30 students and others, who had not departed for London at the weekend.

Occasionally those sessions ran into the late evening and, when a largely Celtic fringe group would stay on, the "drop" was produced and the "rare ould times" in Dublin would be pored over.

His parents were from the west of Ireland. They moved to England, where his father worked as a vet and, having fought with the British army in the first World War with distinction, winning two MCs, he served in the Irish Army during the second World War.

His mother lectured in Italian literature at Trinity College, Dublin. Having attended a boys preparatory school in Pinner in Middlesex, he went to St Ignatius in Galway and then to St Columba's in Dublin, where he had an outstanding Leaving Certificate.

He studied medicine at Trinity College, becoming heavily involved in left-wing student politics but, disapproving of his views, the medical school authorities would not permit him sit his final year examinations in 1951. He thereupon switched to law, was called to the bar by the King's Inns and graduated in 1957 with a high first class honours degree. That secured him a scholarship to Cambridge.

I was close to him at the time; the impression I picked up was that he was not comfortable with the medical school, which he had entered under parental pressure, and developed serious symptoms of stress; he dropped out under medical advice. I did not gain the impression that there was political pressure from above, though the stress of his political activity with the student movement was considerable. He had been actively involved with the development of the Student Representative Council, under a reformed democratic Constitution, and was its founding Chairman. He was also involved actively with the international student movement, which was under divisive stress due to the developing 'cold war' situation. RJ 16/04/2008.

His PhD at Clare College is one of the most exceptional works in English legal literature, showing a deep knowledge of history and of international affairs, and was written in a most attractive no- nonsense style. The subject was political asylum, especially in the context of extradition. It was never published as a book but chapters from it and adaptations of it were published in several internationally-renowned legal journals. On the strength of this work, in 1959, he became a research fellow at Christ's and later a full fellow of the college.

As well as his teaching responsibilities at Christ's, he was director of studies at Peterhouse and also taught at Clare, at King's and at New Hall.

From the mid-1960s his principal focus was on legal aspects of employment, trade unionism and social security. Along with Bill (later Lord) Wedderburn, he established an undergraduate course in labour law.

Paul was an enthusiastic collector of old Irish legal books and documents. For his mammoth bibliographies of Irish trials and also of Irish legal periodical literature, he obtained an award from the American Association of Law Librarians.

Among his contributions to Irish legal history are his essays on Arthur Browne and on William Sampson - both TCD graduates who became eminent in US legal circles at the beginning of the 19th century. His contribution to Ireland's legal scholarship was recognised by TCD and by Cambridge, from which he received LLD degrees, and by the Royal Irish Academy, which in 1986 elected him as a fellow.He was an avid supporter of trade unionism and the labour movement, and also of adult education.

A great disappointment to him was the refusal of TCD to appoint him to the Regius Chair in 1970 when Bueno McKenna SC retired. The general consensus was that he was the most outstanding candidate for the job but was not acceptable on account of his past political views and activities - which included having campaigned for TCD to cease flying the Union Jack over its front gate.

In subsequent correspondence with me he attributed this to the influence of Owen Sheehy-Skeffington, with whom he had a hostile relationship during the 'student left' epoch; OS-S saw him as the instigator of what he regarded as a 'Stalinist cult', during a period when many post-war intellectuals took a positive view of the USSR and its role in Eastern Europe. Paul subsequently evolved a critical view of the USSR, as I did, but never warmed to OS-S, despite the subsequent vindication of the latter's critical views. The 'Union Jack' episode would have been a relatively minor one in the wide-ranging student left agenda in the post-war 1940s. Some of my interaction with Paul O'Higgins in the 1990s is on record. RJ 16/04/2008.

Fifteen years later, Trinity made up for that and appointed him to the chair. But for health and personal reasons, as well as frustration with the paucity of resources for the Law School, in 1987 he returned to England, becoming a professor at King's College, London as well as Vice Master at Christ's until 1995.

In 1952 he married Rachel Bush, daughter of the composer Alan Bush. He is survived by Rachel and by their son Niall, three daughters Maeve, Siobhan and Niav, and three grandchildren, his brother Maurice and his sister Anne.

Paul O'Higgins: born October 5th 1927; died March 13th, 2008.

Irish scholar of labour law, social security and human rights at Cambridge

By Bob Hepple, in The Guardian, on Tuesday March 25, 2008

The teacher, research supervisor and scholar, Professor Paul O'Higgins, who has died aged 80, inspired and supported generations of law students in Cambridge, Dublin and London. While Cambridge was his adopted home for 50 years, it was in Ireland that his heart remained. He was anxiously cheering Ireland's narrow rugby win against Italy only days before he died. He went to school at St Ignatius' College, Galway, and St Columba's College, Rathfarnham, and then studied medicine for some years at Trinity College Dublin, before switching to law, graduating in 1957. He was called to the bar by King's Inns, Dublin, and Lincoln's Inn, London, but never practised.

Instead, his great concern with international human rights led him to become a research student at Cambridge, attached to Clare College. Under the supervision of Professor Sir Robert Jennings, he wrote a brilliant PhD thesis on the subject of political asylum. It was never published, but Paul drew on it in later writings, such as his seminal article on the deportation, in 1962, to the US, without the safeguards of extradition law, of Dr Robert Soblen, an alleged cold-war spy who had been landed in Britain while a prisoner in transit. Paul foresaw the dangers of what has become known as extraordinary rendition.

In 1959 Paul became a fellow of Christ's College, and subsequently a university lecturer in law, teaching for several colleges in constitutional and administrative law, civil liberties and public international law. Unsurprisingly, in view of his strong commitment to the labour and trade union movements, he became involved in teaching labour law, under the influence of Bill Wedderburn (now Lord Wedderburn), who had established a course then called "industrial law" in 1962. Wedderburn left for the LSE in 1964, and Paul took over the course. When he was promoted in 1979, he chose to take the title of "reader in labour law", so as to signal that the subject had finally arrived in Cambridge.

He built up a remarkable community of graduate students and teachers in labour law, social security and human rights between 1964 and 1984, many of whom (including myself) went on to academic, practising or judicial careers in these fields.

He was a generous and kind friend, who gave all his pupils and colleagues unstinting support and encouragement. He was always bubbling with new ideas, usually communicated in frequent scrawled notes. In the 1970s, largely due to his enthusiasm, he and I wrote a series of books on employment law, founded the Encyclopedia of Labour Relations Law, produced a bibliography of British and Irish labour law, and undertook research on then novel topics such as the legal framework of public employee trade unionism. He brought into the rather narrowly focused study of British labour and social law a strong international and European human rights perspective.

He wrote a popular book on Censorship in Britain (1972) that exposed the many extra-legal as well as legal ways in which freedom of speech and the press are curbed. He also produced a book of cases and materials on civil liberties (1980). One of the first to recognise the importance of the academic study of social security law, he overcame the resistance of distinguished professors who thought that pensions and other aspects of the welfare state were beyond the pale of academic law. With Martin Partington he produced a bibliography of social security law.

Throughout his Cambridge years Paul retained close links with Dublin, in particular working on his mammoth bibliographies of Irish trials and of periodical literature related to Irish law, for which he was given an award by the American Association of Law Librarians. He also wrote quite extensively on Irish legal history. His contribution to legal scholarship was recognised by his LLD degrees from Trinity College Dublin and Cambridge, and his election to the Irish Royal Academy in 1986. His bibliomania resulted in the gift of a large volume of materials to the Cambridge Law Library.

None of his friends was surprised when he accepted the prestigious Regius Chair of Laws at TCD in 1984. Sadly, for health and personal reasons, he had to give up residence in Ireland in 1987. King's College London seized the opportunity to offer him a chair that he held for five years until his retirement. On his return to Cambridge, he became vice-master of Christ's College until 1995.

He was actively involved in a variety of progressive causes, and listed his recreations in Who's Who as "wine, talking, and travelling, particularly in France".

He married, in 1952, Rachel Bush, daughter of the composer Alan Bush, and after his retirement he was active as treasurer of the trust formed to promote this neglected composer's music. Many of us have treasured memories of the warm hospitality, fine wine and food, music and lively conversations we enjoyed in their family home. Paul infected us all with his powerful commitment to social justice and human rights, tempered by a great sense of fun and bonhomie. In his last years, with Rachel's loving care, he bravely bore a long illness that rendered him housebound.

He is survived by Rachel, and by their son, three daughters and three grandchildren.

Paul O'Higgins, legal scholar, born October 5 1927; died March 13 2008

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