Lord Mance becomes president of the Heath and Hampstead Society
- Credit: André Langlois
After 17 years in the position, Lord Hoffmann has stepped down as president of the Heath and Hampstead Society.
Jonathan Mance has been voted in to succeed him, while Melvyn Bragg has become a patron.
The society's annual general meeting was held on July 21 at St Stephen’s, in Rosslyn Hill. No AGM was held in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic.
Retired law lord Leonard Hoffmann, known as "Lennie", arrived in Hampstead in 1960 from South Africa with wife Gillian and a one-year-old daughter. The family moved to Oxford, where Lord Hoffmann would become a law fellow at University College, but they returned in 1972 and have lived in the village ever since.
He told the AGM when he was approached about the presidency, the great challenge was following in the footsteps of Peggy Jay, who had held the title for 21 years.
“I was a bit concerned that with her departure the heroic days of the society might be over and I would be presiding over its decline," said Lord Hoffmann.
"What saved the society from this fact was the extraordinary group of people who had come forward to serve it as its trustees and committees, and who gave their experience, their knowledge and their time to protecting the Heath against constant attempts to nibble at its perimeters by developers; to monitoring planning applications for consistency with the character of the village; to the sometimes-tricky diplomacy of cooperation with the City."
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Jonathan Mance, a former deputy president of the supreme court, first met his predecessor at Oxford when he arrived as a student and Lord Hoffmann was a law fellow.
But he said: "If you think I really am a clone I would hope to assure you you're mistaken.
"Lennie, of course, has always been capable of almost anything and I am, at least in origin, a simple commercial lawyer, although any appellant judge gets to broaden out considerably,” he said.
"I shan't be able to give you the legal advice on technical property, planning and geotechnical issues that Lennie evidently gave, although it does occur to me that if oil is struck in Hampstead, I am quite an expert in that as a result of a recent arbitration about oilfield and reservoir engineering," he joked.
He said he had loved Hampstead since first moving to London.
"I love its variety of architecture; it's great houses – Friends House, Burgh House, Keats House; village atmosphere; its side streets and ways, and perhaps above all the surrounding Heath,” he said.
Former society chairman Tony Hillier paid tribute to Lord Hoffmann, saying there were three particular areas in which Lord Hoffmann provided great support: "pubs, Ponds and basements".
"Hampstead had traditionally been an attractive late night drinking venue, which was not much of a problem for residents when closing time was before bedtime,” he said, but the 2003 Licensing Act, with all-hours drinking, changed that.
“Lenny gave us all authoritative confidence to stick to our guns, despite a lot of adverse 'party-pooper' press," he said.
The issue of basements came up when a number of wealthy residents applied to build "in some cases massive" basements, risking damage to neighbouring properties, while the society took on the City of London Corporation over its dams plan.
"I have said informally before, and I would like to place on record, but I believe the greatest single contribution I made the to the society, Lennie, was to succeed in inviting you to be our president,” said Mr Hillier.
Lord Mance becomes the 11th president of the society in its 124-year history, and chairman Marc Hutchinson said: "Looking at the current presidency, the society has been extraordinarily fortunate to have been led for so long by such a distinguished and world-famous judicial lawyer and international figure.
"The society has been doubly fortunate in the amount of time and energy that Lennie has devoted to it in circumstances where he's always had, and continues to have, so many other professional commitments.
"He does not just attend general committee meetings and most of our social functions. He has also accompanied me on occasion to conferences with leading counsel. I always enjoy that pre-conference moment on the telephone with counsel when I casually mentioned that I will be accompanied by Lord Hoffmann, and the resulting intake of counsel's breath.”
He said Lord Hoffmann also made a contribution to the society in his judicial capacity.
“When redrafting the society's constitution, its committee referred to Lord Hoffmann's 1997 ruling in Investors Compensation Scheme versus West Bromwich Building Society, which restated the modern rules on interpretation of contracts,” he said.
"Your drafting committee was particularly assisted by that passage in the judgement which deals with the correct approach to interpretation in circumstances where, in his lordship's words, 'something must have gone wrong with the language'."
To mark Lord Hoffmann's retirement after 17 years, he was presented with a rare book entitled Hampstead, Its Historic Houses and Its Literary and Artistic Associations, by Anna Maxwell, published in 1912.
Lord Hoffmann becomes a patron of the society, along with Lord Bragg.
Marc Hutchinson said: "Melvin has been a local resident and society member for several decades and we are absolutely delighted that he has agreed to this appointment."