Civil Mediation Council

Sir Brian Neill

A tribute to Sir Brian Neill from Sir Alan Ward

"It is with sadness that I announce the death of Sir Brian Neill. He died of pneumonia on December 24, 2017, aged 94. He served with distinction with the 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, taking part in the D-Day landings near Caen where he was wounded during the furious fighting to take the strategically vital Hill 112. A shell fragment had just missed his heart and spine that remained lodged in his liver for the rest of his life. With typical understatement he would explain that he had enjoyed an iron supplement free from prescription for the rest of his life. He was however soon back in action, taking part in the Battle of the Bulge and the relief of Belsen.

Called to the Bar by the Inner Temple, he joined the libel Chambers at Brick Court and appeared in the leading cases of his day. He was appointed a judge of the High Court in 1978 and elevated to the Court of Appeal in 1985. I had the privilege and with that the pleasure of sitting with him on a number of occasions, some memorable. I admired him enormously. He was an exemplary judge, patient and courteous, with an enviable facility for listening, often at greater length than some of my brethren, at ill-focused argument which he would eventually interrupt saying in mellifluous tones, "If I have correctly understood your submissions your case may be summarised as first …, secondly … and finally …" A haystack was magically transformed by three clear statements of legal principle into golden bricks. It was a travesty that he was never appointed to the House of Lords.

He retired in 1996 and being among the first to see the importance of mediation, he became the first chairman of the Civil Mediation Council. He will be sorely missed by his many admirers."

Before he passed away, Sir Henry Brooke wrote:

 "Brian Neill was a very great friend for more than 30 years. For him life was never cabined or confined by legal or judicial practice, distinguished though his contribution was to each. A devoted family man, he threw himself in recent years into three causes in each of which I was happy to be by his side.

First was the application of IT in the law, whose possibilities he first appreciated more than 40 years ago. Then, after he had retired as a judge at the age of 73, his remarkable achievement, with Jonathan Dingle acting as his faithful adjutant, in persuading the embryo civil mediation organisations that it was in their interests to work together, both among themselves and with Government, to form the entity that became the CMC. He was its first chairman. And then there was his tireless work in Eastern Europe as Chair of the Slynn Foundation, encouraging the judiciaries and justice systems of the emerging democracies to appreciate the value of the rule of law.

And he still had the time and energy to co-ordinate the preparation and publication of the third edition of his textbook on defamation law and practice when he was 86 (and also the fourth edition a few years later), and to advise Government on the text of the recent Defamation Act. 

A giant among men - but a very gentle, very friendly giant, whom many will be missing and mourning today."

Richard Schiffer adds:

"As one of the founding directors of the Civil Mediation Council, there is no doubt in my mind that without Sir Brian Neill, the CMC would not exist today as a vibrant membership and charitable organisation for commercial and workplace mediators.  Sir Brian was a passionate believer in mediation as an effective tool for amicable dispute resolution and with the barrister Jonathan Dingle, Sir Brian conceived, organised and lead the CMC as its first Chairman.  Along with his ground breaking work in the development of the laws of libel as well as Computers and the Law, the value of Sir Brian's contribution to the growth of mediation in the UK cannot be overstated. A great and gentle man."