Lives Remembered

Sir Louis Blom-Cooper: Campaigning lawyer had strong links with Northern Ireland

Sir Louis Blom-Cooper QC represented the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association at the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday
Seamus McKinney

SIR Louis Blom-Cooper was both praised and criticised through his links with Northern Ireland.

The eminent English QC, who died aged 92 on September 19, was one of the leading legal brains of his generation.

As barrister for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association during the Saville Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, Sir Louis won admiration for facing down British army and state representatives over claims that it was infiltrated by the republican movement.

However, he was criticised in equal measure when he argued in 2009 that the inquiry had been too expensive and inordinately long.

He himself had earned more than £587,000 for his work.

Relatives accused of him of making hurtful and disrespectful comments, and he would be criticised further over claims made in relation to the Birmingham Six case.

The son of a London fruit and veg trader, Sir Louis studied law in London, Cambridge and Amsterdam from where he obtained a doctorate.

He was called to the bar in England in 1952, taking silk in 1970. He was also called to the Bar of Northern Ireland and made a QC.

Sir Louis served as Independent Commissioner for the Holding Centres for paramilitary prisoners in Northern Ireland from 1993 to 2000, and told a story of being asked by an RUC officer whether he was "a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew".

"I responded instantly that my interests were entirely catholic and that I had spent my whole life protesting against authority."

Described as outgoing and gregarious by friends, Sir Louis had a varied career as lawyer, judge, author, academic and journalist.

He was a columnist with The Observer and served as chairman of the Press Council, the forerunner to the Press Complaints Commission.

As well as sitting as a deputy High Court judge, he chaired more than 12 inquiries and wrote widely on all aspects of law, holding an academic appointment at the University of London for more than 20 years.

However, perhaps his most enduring legacy will be his role in 1961 in the establishment of Amnesty International.

Sir Louis encouraged Amnesty founder Peter Benenson to write to The Observer to invite a letter-writing campaign on behalf of two Portuguese prisoners. From that newspaper appeal, the human rights organisation emerged.

The QC himself made important contributions to campaigns against the death penalty and for prisoners' rights.

Predeceased by his wife Jane in 2006, Sir Louis is survived by six children from two marriages.

Seamus McKinney

 

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Lives Remembered