Mr Justice McCardie (1869-1933): Rebel, Reformer, and Rogue Judge
Not many senior judges nowadays share the relatively humble background of Mr Justice McCardie. He left school at 15 and did not have a university degree. However, he pursued a successful career at the Birmingham bar, partly through the sympathetic friendship of a local solicitor. This is about the only mention of our profession in the book.
McCardie later moved his practice to London, which was quite a risky step, but continued to be a very successful junior. He worked long hours and through a team of ‘devils’, or junior juniors, dealt with many cases at the same time.
Success at the bar was followed, at a young age, with appointment as a High Court judge. Again, he chanced his luck by both applying for silk and then withdrawing his application. He was offered, and refused, a seat in the House of Commons, at a time when such a move would almost have guaranteed a route to the top of the judiciary.
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On the bench, he was outspoken in his view that much of the law which affected everyone was arcane if not unjust. His modern opinions led to very public arguments with the most senior judges and criticism from the highest levels in parliament. One gets the impression of a humane judge far ahead of his time.
McCardie was seen as a champion of sexual equality. Women were eligible to be jurors but could apply to be excused if the subject matter of the case was unpleasant.
With respect to divorce, McCardie, or the ‘bachelor judge’ as he became known, was called on to decide what items of clothing were ‘necessaries’ for women and whether their husbands were legally liable to pay the bills. And he was the judge in the ‘Cambridge Helen of Troy’ case, which involved a bereft husband suing an alleged cad for compensation for loss of the pleasure of his wife’s company. The litigation concerned whether a man could veto the people his wife saw or spent time with.
Mr Justice McCardie never held the highest judicial offices – and ultimately there was a tragic end to his story.
This well-researched study of an interesting character (and the not-too-distant legal past) is not cheap, but it offers fascinating insights.
David Pickup is a partner at Pickup and Scott Solicitors, Aylesbury