‘An ascent so steep as to make a meteor blush’ – The valedictory for the Honourable Mr Justice Mostyn, 3 October 2023

Published: 21/11/2023 07:00

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On Monday, 2 October 2023 history was made in Court 4 of the Royal Courts of Justice, with the swearing in of the first ever Lady Chief Justice of England and Wales. Just a day later, in the very same, similarly packed-out court room, Lady Carr crossed the rope to open at the valedictory of the honourable and inimitable Mr Justice Mostyn.

The combined numbers of those crammed into Court 4 as well as those observing online must have neared four figures. Every Judge in the building appeared to be in attendance, as well as legions of members of staff and judicial assistants, lawyers from every discipline, media celebrities as well as Sir Nicholas’ family and close friends. It is a mark of the man that this last group clearly included so many from across that wide field.

First in a superlative top order of speakers (all of which can be read in full on the FRJ blog), Lady Carr paid a touching tribute to Sir Nicholas’ scholarship and contribution to the law, her gravitas cut with the humour we were hoping for, notwithstanding how busy Sir Nicholas had kept the umpires in the Court of Appeal. The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane followed. His description of the ‘bitter-sweet’ nature of the occasion summed up eloquently the emotions of those in attendance: sadness at the ‘abdication’ of the self-appointed ‘monarch of the mountainous Principality of Court 50’, tempered with a deep appreciation of the lasting legacy Sir Nicholas leaves behind.

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And what a legacy that is. Described by Tim Bishop KC in his speech as ‘barrister, judge, reformer, author, lecturer, computer expert and international ambassador’, Sir Nicholas’ contribution to family law and in particular to the development of the Financial Remedies Court is nothing short of stellar. He led the charge to create the Financial Remedies Court. Without his drive, there would be no suites of standard orders, no Statements on Efficient Conduct, no At A Glance … the list is long. Other judges would be written about, but perhaps not in this publication. Without Sir Nicholas’ establishment of Class Legal as the leading publisher for financial remedies, it is unlikely this publication would have ever existed. However, for balance and as Tim Bishop KC opined, it is true to say there would be no ES2 either.

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Photo reproduced with kind permission of Charles Hale KC

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The subject of Sir Nicholas’ judgments was, given its frequent mention in his most recent interviews and speeches, a running theme. Sir Andrew anticipated that Sir Nicholas would declare his precise number and he did – 321. Tim Bishop KC rightly referred to those as judgments ‘which clarify and modernise virtually every aspect of law and practice in relation to financial remedies’, echoing Sir Andrew’s reference that they are ‘the output of a mind that is constantly fascinated by the law and keen to develop it to meet the needs of justice in an ever more complicated world.’

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Lady Ward was last to approach the crease. She spoke from the heart, describing her long friendship with Sir Nicholas, from their first meeting as Sir Peter Singer’s insouciant but brilliant pupil, balancing precariously on two chair legs and disinterestedly reading the newspaper, to the deep and loyal friendship they enjoy today.

It was evident from his response that Sir Nicholas was moved by the warm and affectionate tributes. He spoke, as did others, about a life of love and laughter with Liz and his family; of his plans to continue his work with the Movers and Shakers podcast and in raising awareness of and funds for research into treatment for his fellow ‘Parkys’.

Although a moving speech which brought a tear to many an eye, it was as funny and clever as we have come to expect from Sir Nicholas. Described in his 1971 school report as a boy who ‘covets to excess the role of entertainer’, no less the man. He kept the gallery in stitches as he paid tribute to the Court of Appeal (‘the dark side’), his fellow High Court Judges, his neurologist, his usher Maureen and his clerk Tony. Only the prospect of wine, canapés and a chance of a word with the man himself at the reception in the Costume Gallery afterwards brought an end to the unprecedented and prolonged standing ovation which followed Sir Nicholas’ valedictory speech. It may the end of his innings in the Principality of Court 50, but Sir Nicholas leaves carrying his bat.

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The title of this article is drawn from Tim Bishop KC’s speech. So is its conclusion. It is simply unimprovable.

‘On behalf of us all, thank you. Thank you for everything you have contributed. Thank you for all you have done. It was magnificent.’

The speeches at the valedictory given by the Lady Chief Justice, The President of the Family Division, Tim Bishop KC on behalf of the Bar, and Lady Helen Ward on behalf of solicitors, as well as Sir Nicholas’s own parting words can be read in the FRJ blog here: https://financialremediesjournal.com/valediction-1016.s

Note: Photographs are reproduced with judicial permission.


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