This I Believe

Lawrence, Geoffrey, Baron Oaksey


  • Lord Oaksey emphasizes the importance of keeping one's values strong but simple so that they may remain solid, and also to be conscious of right and wrong, and also to be aware of opportunity or "luck," then concludes with a poem by Adam Lindsey Gordon.
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And now, This I Believe, the living philosophies of thoughtful men and women, presented in the hope they may strengthen your beliefs so that your life may be richer, fuller, happier. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Lord Oaksey is one of England’s most distinguished jurists. He achieved international renown as presiding justice of the Nuremburg war criminal trials. Then he was known as Lord Justice Lawrence. He was elevated to the peerage in 1947. In the famous Profile series in the London Observer, it was written, “Lord Oaksey’s life and career have a simple pattern, which never seems to vary. There is a sense in which he is thoroughly representative of all those values which are associated, especially by people who are not English, with Victorian English gentlemen.
He would have felt at home with the Forsyth. Lord Oaksey is a collector of antique China. He has always had hobbies. When he is finished in court, he likes to slip away to his country house, to his horses and his famous herd of Guernseys. Perhaps his judicial mind, that ability to weigh up the pros and cons, to remain detached and free from impulse, helps him to be such a good judge of animals. Certainly, that curious legal faculty of being able to remember not one but hundreds of legal precedents, obscure cases and ancient judgments, must account for his astonishing memory of famous sires and pedigrees.” Thus writes the London Observer. Now, here to speak for himself, is Lord Oaksey.
Beliefs should be few and unshakable like rocks, not numberless and shifting like the sands of the sea. In matters of performance, I believe in intensity, since neither the mind nor the body can produce its best except at white heat. In matters of principle, I believe in simplicity.
When I joined the army as an artilleryman in September 1914, I found that almost all artillery problems could be solved by a very few, simple principles—almost as accurately as by slide rule—and that in moments of crisis, it was essential to have these simple principles so fixed in your mind that you could not forget them. A slide rule can be lost or broken. In the same way, your principles should, I believe, be few and simple and ingrained into your very being.
There is then no difficulty in following them, if you have the will. It is over-refinement in their application that leads to perplexity.
In perplexity, I believe in inspiration. The test of sanity in English law is to be able to distinguish right from wrong, and no sane person believes that wrong is right. If there is any doubt, resolve the doubt against your own interest. Never sail too close to the wind. Rules should be observed in their spirits, as well as in their letter.
I believe, too, in opportunity—or “luck,” as some would call it. How often are opportunities thrown away owing to the irritation or boredom in waiting for them?
Any game player will agree with me, and what is true in games is true in life.
The last four lines of Adam Lindsey Gordon’s poem have always appealed to me:
Life is not betrothen bubble
Two things stand like stone
Kindness in another’s trouble
Courage in your own
There the beliefs of England’s Lord Oaksey, who is the son of a former lord chief justice and who, himself, now in his 70s, can look back with satisfaction upon a brilliant career before the bar and the bench.