Fifty years ago today my friend George Laurence, now an eminent QC, first stepped on English soil.
He was born and brought up in Pretoria, South Africa. On 10 September 1969, a 22-year old, he boarded the SA Vaal in Cape Town, heading for University College, Oxford where he was to read law as a Rhodes scholar.
In a speech at a party for his seventieth birthday he recalled that ‘I was tall, brown, slender, fit and friendly. But my first encounters with the daunting English reserve lay ahead of me.’ He related that, in thoroughly un-English fashion, he used to ask people when he met them what they were called and would record their names in his little address book. He would introduce himself to people he met ‘in the erroneous belief that they would be remotely interested in knowing, let alone subsequently using, my name’.
He soon met many people who became lifelong friends, including Lennie (Lord) Hoffmann, his law tutor who was immensely kind to him. George was called to the bar in 1972 and became a QC in 1991.
I am so glad that George did come to England 50 years ago. Not only has he been a good friend and walking companion for the last 40 years, but he has also massively developed the law concerning our rights of passage in this country.
His quick, incisive mind and ability to pursue phenomenal arguments in the interpretation of the law have been invaluable. For the Ramblers, Open Spaces Society and me personally he has won some crucial cases; these have enabled us to reopen blocked paths and defend people’s rights in the face of threats to their paths and spaces. He does not always appear for our side though, and has gained experience and insight from representing landowners too (which he has then used to our advantage).
So thank you George for coming to England half a century ago, and for all that you have done for us since.