Frances Patterson Q.C. (Doctor of Laws)

Friday 13 July 2012, 11am

Frances Patterson is the Public Law Commissioner for England and Wales. The Law Commission is the statutory independent body responsible for keeping the law under review and recommending reform where it is needed to the government. Each of the commissioners leads a team of lawyers and research assistants responsible for a particular area of the law. Frances Patterson leads the team responsible for the scrutiny of public law, which is the sphere of law that deals with the state and its relations with individuals.  The projects that she has in hand at present include the modernisation and simplification of electoral law, a review of the regulatory framework governing health and social care professionals, and an examination of the law that governs wildlife management. On a smaller scale, she is also reviewing the legislation that regulates level crossings and the legal framework that relates to taxis and private hire vehicles and to data sharing.  Last year she was responsible for the final report to the government on the reform of adult social care law. A draft bill to implement the recommendations of that report was announced in this year’s Queen's Speech. What these projects have in common are the interests of everyone who lives here, including wild animals as well as humans.

How, you may wonder, does one become a law commissioner? In the case of Frances Patterson, the career path begins here at the University of Leicester, where she graduated in History.  Her personal tutor (and tutor in her special subject of Mid-Victorian history) was Jack Simmons, one of the founding professors of this University. In those days, long before the emergence of careers offices, it was professors who recommended careers for their undergraduates, and Professor Simmons decided that young Frances should enter publishing. Frances demurred, because she had  decided to become a barrister. She had been interested in reading law when she was at school but had been put off by her teachers on the basis that no member of her family had ever been in the legal profession!  On graduation from Leicester Frances accordingly went off to London, joined Middle Temple and studied at the College of Law, where she read for the bar. Even at that stage, there were signs that she was destined to have a career of great distinction: at the Middle Temple she was the Campbell Foster prize winner and she was a recipient of a Winston Churchill Pupillage award.  Frances began her pupillage in London and completed it at what became Kings Chambers, centred in Manchester and Leeds. She was taken on as a tenant in those Chambers (then the only woman tenant), and twenty five years later became its Head of Chambers, through those decades specialising in town and country planning, environment law, compulsory purchase and compensation, and highways matters. Along the way she was appointed Queen's Counsel, or, as lawyers say, took silk. Later she was elected as a Bencher of the Middle Temple, that being the way that the Inns of Court honour the distinguished contributions of their finest barristers.  She was appointed as a Recorder of the Crown Court and as a Deputy High Court Judge.  In one aspect of her career, she has also fulfilled Professor Simmons' intention that she should go into publishing, in that Frances is Consultant Editor of and contributor to Judicial Review: Law and Practice, which is published by Jordans,  and she is Consultant Editor of Jordans Public Law Online.

Frances Patterson's professional life has centred on planning, environmental law and public law. She has variously acted for and against housing, leisure and retail developers, including Sainsbury, Tesco,  the National Grid, BP and in the higher education world, the University of York where she helped the University gain planning permission for an entirely new campus thereby giving the University the potential to double its size. She played an important part in public enquiries such as the Manchester Second Runway, which was the subject of environmental protests, and the Trafford Centre, the subject of a legal battle that went to the Court of Appeal and then the House of Lords.  These are enterprises that give rise to strong feelings and heated emotions, and those involved are fortunate to have the knowledgeable involvement of Frances Patterson, who is alert both to commercial imperatives and to impacts on ordinary citizens.  Frances's expertise in difficult enquiries was recognised by her appointment as chair of an independent enquiry mounted by a health authority into the failings of agencies involved in the protection of a five-year-old girl stabbed to death by her schizophrenic mother.  

Frances Patterson's legal work only once brought her to Leicester: Barratts planned a housing development by the river, and the issues with which Frances had to contend included the presence of pylons on the development layout.  This encounter with our electricity infrastructure did not bring her into contact with the University, as our assets do not include pylons. The renewed link instead came through an alumni dinner in London, one of the most fruitful initiatives of our enterprising Vice-Chancellor.  The good will generated by that evening led Frances to accept an invitation to return to the campus to give a lecture in the School of Law. She arrived to see what she rightly described as a 'transformed University campus'; we have long been a fine University, and the changes wrought in recent years means that our architecture and ambience are now correspondingly fine. We are immensely proud that Frances is associated with our past, and that she is now associated with the University that we have become.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, on the authority of the Senate and the Council, I present to you Frances Patterson, that you may confer upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws.

Written and delivered by Professor Gordon Campbell

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