A senior judge has warned of “potentially dire consequences” if the legal system is allowed to deteriorate, referring to the ongoing criminal barristers’ strike in his final address to mark his retirement.
In a speech to mark him stepping down as a full-time judge, Sir Adrian Fulford said: “The strike by the criminal bar, the first of its kind, has shown that potentially dire consequences can flow if it is allowed to degrade or indeed entirely to break down.
“And some things, once gone, are mightily difficult if not impossible to rebuild.”
Sir Adrian, 69, who retired from his role as vice president of the criminal Court of Appeal on Friday, made his remarks to an audience of judges, lawyers and members of his family, including his husband Luis, who gathered in court four of the Royal Courts of Justice for his valedictory ceremony on Monday.
In a poignant retirement speech, he said: “They say of astronauts that as they rise up through the earth’s atmosphere and accelerate into outer space, that they frequently experience an acute sense of the beauty, fragility and preciousness of the blue and white planet they are leaving behind, a unique bright spot in an otherwise dark firmament.
“Now finally leaving the most wonderful of all occupations, this is a sensation I feel I now truly share.
“However much others may choose to attempt to undermine the importance of the rule of law, we have in my view protected and preserved, wholly intact, a judiciary that is shiningly independent and which produces a remarkably high volume of judgments and decisions (mine naturally excepted) of the highest calibre, crafted with care and rare skill.
“The lights burning late into the night in the rooms in this building; the judges and lawyers getting to court at dawn to prepare for the day to come.
“I see now, as never before, the exceptional privilege that has been afforded to me, both as an advocate and as a judge, to play a part in this critical, honourable and highly effective legal ecosystem.”
Sir Adrian, who is openly gay and entered a civil partnership with Luis in December 2007, also referred to the changes he has seen during his time in the legal profession.
He said: “Last, if history determines that I have done only one thing of value, I hope that it is that I contributed to an environment in which barristers and solicitors who were not necessarily suited and booted in the classic mode, who did not fit the traditional stereotype by way of their background and lifestyle, have been able throughout their careers to be honest about themselves, and haven’t felt the need to pretend at any stage to be someone they are not.
“If I have at least helped by the way I have lived my life, professionally and personally, to bring about that change, for me this will have been an accomplishment far greater than anything I could ever have hoped for when I qualified back in the very different and infinitely more hostile world of 1978.”
The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, said at the ceremony: “We all owe Adrian a debt of gratitude for everything he has achieved as a judge and most particularly in recent years, when he has undertaken with distinction a range of roles.”
Sir Adrian was called to the Bar in in 1978 and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1994.
He became a judge in 1995 and a High Court judge (Queen’s Bench Division) in 2002, and was appointed as a lord justice of appeal in 2013 – becoming vice president of the Court of Appeal criminal division in 2019.
Sir Adrian also sat as a judge of the International Criminal Court from 2003 to 2012, and was later elected as president of the court’s trial division, and in 2017 was appointed the first Investigatory Powers Commissioner.
In September 2021, he sentenced former Met Police officer Wayne Couzens for the murder of Sarah Everard, saying that the case in which a serving officer abused his position was so exceptional that it warranted a whole life order – meaning Couzens will never be freed.