Obituaries: Professor Sir William Wade ; Giant of Constitutional and Administrative Law

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WILLIAM WADE was one of the giants of academic law. His distinguished contribution to legal scholarship, especially in constitutional and administrative law, was vigorously maintained from the immediate post-war years and he was intellectually alert and active to the end. It was only admission to hospital which prevented his attendance on the occasion of Lord Woolf's widely publicised address in Cambridge on 3 March; and, with his distaste for legislative efforts to exclude the courts from exercising their powers of judicial review, Wade would have emphatically supported the views of the Lord Chief Justice on the subsequently abandoned ouster clause in the current asylum Bill.

Judicial review of administrative action in Britain was in a parlous state some 50 years ago. Few doubted that something had to be done. Several judges, notably Lord Denning, as Master of the Rolls for 20 years from 1962, began the process of recovery; and their efforts were reinforced and given a sense of direction through the pioneering work of several academic writers, notably Stanley de Smith, whose Judicial Review of Administrative Action first appeared in 1959, and H.W.R. Wade, whose Administrative Law appeared in its first edition in 1961.

The latter work, consisting of less than 300 pages at the outset, appeared in its eighth edition (with Christopher Forsyth) in 2000 with well over 1,000 larger pages. The gloom expressed in the preface in 1961 contrasts with the assertion in 2000 that the judges had established "an almost boundless jurisdiction over almost every kind of governmental activity". The productive alliance of judges and academic lawyers, with Denning and Wade for many years in the forefront of the sustained recovery of administrative law, is recognised in the dedication of the eighth edition to the memory of Lord Denning: "A great judge, an architect of administrative law and friend of this book".

Wade's contribution went far beyond that one book. Apart from his co- authorship with Sir Robert Megarry of a leading work on the law of real property (The Law of Real Property, 1957), he published several shorter books on constitutional and administrative law which were the products of named lectures delivered at home and abroad: these included Constitutional Fundamentals which emerged from the Hamlyn Lectures of 1980 in which he spoke of "deep dissatisfaction with the constitution".

He also wrote very many articles and shorter notes in legal periodicals often identifying with precision new developments in areas such as parliamentary sovereignty or new problems of interpretation over legislation such as the European Communities Act 1972 and the Human Rights Act 1998. He edited the Annual Survey of Commonwealth Law from 1965 to 1976, a reflection of his keen comparative interest in the laws of other jurisdictions.

In 1972 he wrote, along with Bernard Schwartz of New York University, Legal Control of Government, a study of administrative law in Britain and the United States. His comparative interests led to the establishment of numerous friendships abroad, including those with Lord Cooke of Thorndon in New Zealand and Sir Anthony Mason in Australia. He also had strong contacts in India, the United States, Malaysia, Canada, and many countries in Europe.

There was a refreshing clarity and vitality in Wade's writing. His ability to conjure up the striking phrase or description was uncanny, with references to the "myth of unfettered discretion", to the "twilight" of natural justice, to "the seismic upheaval which was visited upon the practising profession" through the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990, to section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911 as "a blot on the statute book which needs to be removed", and to a judicial statement "which could hardly be clearer: Parliament can bind its successors. If that is not revolutionary, constitutional lawyers are Dutchmen. …