Tony Hart Q. C. died today.
I came to the Bar in 1983 and shortly after , I attended a Bar dinner at Malone House. Tony was at my table. Having just taken Silk , he was in good form and excellent company.
He attended Portora Royal School and Trinity College and came to Belfast to study for his Bar exams. He told me that he took digs in the north of the city near Belfast Royal Academy. He was an accomplished rower and kept up the interest long after he stopped participating.
I got to know him better when he became Recorder of Londonderry. Fearsome to those who were unprepared, he was a scrupulously fair man .
Our paths crossed often. From a hard fought discrimination case in Londonderry to R v Howell and Stewart in Coleraine, he was , almost always, a model of what a judge should be.
The late John Cushnahan and I had endured a contentious Crown Court trial. The accused appealed. John could not do the appeal. His replacement phoned me on the Sunday before the hearing. “I’ve read the transcript, Tony forgot to remind the jury about the standard of proof”. I’ve no doubt that was because of the mayhem of the three way fight that was going on. I made my best efforts in front of their Lordships but a new trial was ordered.
In the Howell and Stewart trial he was at the top of his form. His directions to the jury were bomb proof. He said to them “ask yourselves this question, were they in it together?” They jury agreed that they were.
Crown counsel sometimes had access to the judge’s chambers for entirely appropriate reasons. In private conversations, he often praised my opponent , only minutes after giving them a severe time.
He was kind to me, providing me with references , when asked. He entrusted his daughter to me , for work experience.
Someone organised a memorial lunch for the late Judge Foote. I suspect the late John Creaney. It was held in Nick’s Warehouse [where else?] Also present were me, Malachy Higgins. Donnell Deeney’s brother and a few others. After some refreshments, the topic of Restorative Justice was raised. I asked Tony if , under this system , he would be ‘An Recorder’ or the ‘Continuity Recorder’. His reply was “Bar Library humour can be patchy”.
Tony was a model of what it was to be a public servant. His management of HIA was exemplary after the pigs’ trough of Bloody Sunday. He wrote the definitive history of the Bar in Northern Ireland.
He dedicated it to :
“the memory of those members of the Inn of Court of Northern Ireland who lost their lives upholding the rule of law”
That would be Tony.
I offer my condolences to his family.