Gerald Gardiner, Baron Gardiner

The Right Honourable
The Lord Gardiner

Lord Gardiner in 1977.
Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
In office
16 October 1964  19 June 1970
Monarch Elizabeth II
Prime Minister Harold Wilson
Preceded by The Lord Dilhorne
Succeeded by The Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone
Personal details
Born 30 May 1900 (1900-05-30)
Died 7 January 1990 (1990-01-08) (aged 89)
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) (1) Lesly Trounson (d. 1966)
(2) Muriel Box (1905–1991)
Alma mater Magdalen College, Oxford

Gerald Austin Gardiner, Baron Gardiner, CH PC QC (30 May 1900 – 7 January 1990) was a British Labour politician, who served as Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain from 1964 to 1970 and during that time he introduced into British law as many reforms as any Lord Chancellor had done before or since. In that position he embarked on a great programme of reform, most importantly setting up the Law Commission in 1965.[1]

Early life and education

His father was Robert Septimus Gardiner (died 16 November 1939)[2] and his mother was Alice von Ziegesar (died 31 January 1953[3]), daughter of Count von Ziegesar and granddaughter of Dionysius Lardner.[4] Gardiner was born in Chelsea, London[5] and attended Harrow School. When his father visited him at Harrow he noticed a copy of the Nation, later incorporated into the New Statesman, lying around and yelled that no other son of his would attend a school where such publications were openly displayed. He was as good as his word, and Gerald's two brothers were sent to Eton.

When Gardiner was at Magdalen College, Oxford in the 1920s, he published a pamphlet on pink paper which resulted in his being sent down. A woman undergraduate had suffered the same fate a few days previously for climbing into a men's college after a dance. Gardiner, characteristically, rushed to her defence and the Vice-Chancellor, Lewis Richard Farnell, notoriously out of touch with the post-war generation, asked Gardiner to leave at the intolerable hour of six in the morning; any later hour, Farnell knew, would have meant a sympathetic funeral procession several hundred strong. The girl to whose defence Gardiner had so gallantly flown was later a film critic, Dilys Powell.

While occupying the position of Chancellor of the Open University, he took a degree in the Social Sciences, at the age of 76.[6]


Gerald Gardiner served in the Coldstream Guards in 1918, but in the 1930s he joined the Peace Pledge Union. During World War II Gardiner volunteered to join the Friends' Ambulance Unit, as an alternative to military service, although he was actually just over conscription age, and served 1943 to 1945.

Gardiner was called to the Bar in 1925 and was made King's Counsel in 1948. As a lawyer, he fought for the abolition of capital punishment. He represented the Daily Mirror and its columnist Cassandra (William Neil Connor) in a notable libel trial in 1959 when the pianist Liberace claimed that a newspaper article imputed that he was homosexual.[7] More successfully, he was the Counsel for the Defence in the trial for obscenity of the publishers of Lady Chatterley's Lover in 1960. He played an active role in various reform movements and held numerous professional positions. He was a member of the Committee on Supreme Court Practice and Procedure, 1947–53 chaired by Raymond Evershed, 1st Baron Evershed.,[8] He was a member of the Lord Chancellor's Law Reform Committee, 1952–63. He was a Master of the Bench of the Inner Temple in 1955, Chairman of the General Council of the Bar in 1958 and 1959.[9] He was a member of the International Commission of Jurists in 1971. He was Joint Chairman of the National Campaign for Abolition of Capital Punishment.

Role as Lord Chancellor

Gardiner stood for election as the Labour Party's candidate in the 1951 General Election in Croydon West. He lost to the Conservative, Richard Thompson. In the 1964 New Year Honours he was made a life peer as Baron Gardiner, of Kittisford in the County of Somerset.[10] On the Labour Party's General Election victory in 1964, he was appointed Lord Chancellor and to the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in 1964 by Harold Wilson. In 1970, the Labour Party was defeated in the General Election and Lord Gardiner resigned as Lord Chancellor. In that role, he was responsible for the creation of the Ombudsman. He also did much to advance women's rights.

Security surveillance

During debates on the British Telecommunications Bill[11] in the House of Lords in 1981, various members raised concerns about telephone tapping, a matter of disquiet in the community and amongst these members. In his contribution, Lord Gardiner told of the difficulties he experienced as Lord Chancellor (1964–1970) in being able to conduct strictly private discussions with the then Attorney-General. Lord Gardiner said he believed his telephone calls were intercepted by a British intelligence organisation. He also alluded to a need to take a ride around the park in his chauffeur-driven car with the Attorney-General to ensure security of their conversations – rather than having 'security' listen in[12]

After Lord Chancellorship

Northern Ireland Interrogation methods Minority Report

Lord Gardiner published the Minority Report in March 1972 as part of the Parker Report (Report of the Committee of Privy Counsellors appointed to consider authorised procedures for the interrogation of persons suspected of terrorism),[13] which considered the interrogation procedures used against suspects of terrorism in Northern Ireland, with particular reference to allegations of torture during internment in 1971 (See Sensory deprivation, Use of torture since 1948#United Kingdom, Five techniques). Lord Gardiner was appointed a Companion of Honour in the 1975 New Year's Honours.[14]

Assassination attempt

In June 1981 Gardiner survived a failed assassination attempt when a bomb containing 3 pounds of explosive was attached to his car by the IRA during a visit to Belfast. The device was later found near the junction of University Road and Elmwood Avenue, Belfast, and defused by the British Army. The IRA released a statement saying: "We meant to kill Gardiner, the political architect of the criminalization policy and the H-blocks. The device fell off the car and failed to explode."[15]

Open University

He was Chancellor of the Open University from 1973 to 1978.

Personal life

In 1925 he married Lesly Trounson (died 1966). They had one daughter. In 1970, Gardiner married Muriel Box, writer, producer and director who had won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for The Seventh Veil. She published his biography in 1983.[16] He died in Hendon, London[17] on 7 January 1990, aged 89. His papers (1922–1988) are held by the Churchill Archive Centre in Cambridge.[18] Papers relating to the abolition of Capital Punishment are at the British Library.[19]

Styles of address



  1. ODNB article by Norman S. Marsh, 'Gardiner, Gerald Austin, Baron Gardiner (1900–1990)', rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 ODNB Online, accessed 27 March 2008.
  2. The Times, Saturday, 18 November 1939; pg. 1; Issue 48466; col A: Death notices
  3. The Times, Thursday, 5 February 1953; pg. 8; Issue 52538; col E: Death Notice of Lady Gardiner.
  4. The Times, Monday, 20 November 1939; pg. 8; Issue 48467; col D Sir Robert Gardiner Obituary. Dionysus Lardner archive with marriage certificate of Susan Lardner and Baron von Ziegesar
  5. Births England and Wales 1837–1915
  6. "Open university chancellor and window cleaner among 5,800 latest graduates". The Times. 28 January 1977.
  7. Crying All The Way to the Bank – Liberace v. The Daily Mirror and Cassandra, by Revel Barker, 2009
  8. Lord Evershed's ODNB biography says: "The committee spent six years examining the rules which had mainly been introduced in 1875 to govern the newly created, single Supreme Court. By the middle of the twentieth century this code had distinctly aged and become an ill-assorted patchwork. Following three interim reports the committee reported finally in 1953 with more than 200 recommendations. " -ODNB article by Nicholls of Birkenhead, 'Evershed, (Francis) Raymond, Baron Evershed (1899–1966)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008, accessed 27 March 2008.
  9. Bar Council website (Accessed 27 March 2008).
  10. The London Gazette: no. 43222. p. 467. 17 January 1964.
  11. Enacted as the British Telecommunications Act 1981 c. 38
  12. The Times, Wednesday, 20 May 1981; pg. 5; Issue 60932; col G "House of Lords Lord Gardiner thought his phone was bugged."
  13. Parker Report online source.
  14. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 46444. p. 23. 1 January 1975.
  15. "Bomb meant for Gardiner, IRA claims". The Times (60954). London. 15 June 1981. p. 1.
  16. Rebel advocate: a biography of Gerald Gardiner by Muriel Box, Gollancz (1983) ISBN 0-575-03269-3
  17. Deaths England and Wales 1984–2006
  18. Archives of Gerald Gardiner at Churchill College
  19. Campaign for the abolition of capital punishment 1964–70, Reference : Add MSS 56455-63
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Dilhorne
Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain
Succeeded by
The Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone
Academic offices
Preceded by
Baron Crowther
Chancellor of the Open University
Succeeded by
Baron Briggs
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