We are pleased to share with you the kind words spoken at the Valedictory of HHJ Kramer on 28 September 2023, by Mr Justice Fancourt, Simon Goldberg KC and DJ Cristina Falzon.
Mr Justice Fancourt:
- Today is a sad but also a happy occasion, with large numbers gathered here in these warm and historic surroundings, with so much goodwill, to wish a judicial farewell to HH Judge Kramer, the Business and Property Courts specialist civil judge in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, who retires officially in November but will be sitting as a judge for the last time tomorrow.
- It is a mark of the respect that the senior judiciary has for Judge Kramer that the Chancellor of the High Court, and the former head of the commercial court, Cockerill J, have travelled to be here today, and the Master of the Rolls attended the celebratory dinner last night. Judge Kramer’s senior colleagues in Newcastle are also here: the Recorder of Newcastle and the Designated Civil Judge for Newcastle. I know that the current judge in charge of the commercial court, Foxton J, also wanted to attend, but cannot because he is on vacation duty in the Rolls Building. Delighted that the Lord Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear and the City’s Lord Mayor are able to be present too, which appropriately reflect the importance to the local community of the Business and Property Courts in this city.
- Judge Kramer has been here on Tyneside so long and speaks such convincing Geordie that you would be forgiven for thinking he is a son of the north east. But it is not so. He was born and brought up in the north west – of London. Loudoun Rd, London NW8 to be exact , within a cricket ball’s throw of Lord’s. Judge Kramer’s father was a solicitor and had his own firm in Regent Street, but died while Judge Kramer was still very young. His mother had to bring him up in straitened times and they were Rent Act tenants of their house, as successors to one EW Swanton. It no doubt inspired the young Philip to pay his sixpence at the turnstiles and sit by the boundary rope to watch the cricket, as he did from the age of 10.
- I will, if I may, say something about the path that Judge Kramer took to becoming a practising lawyer, because it is unconventional, to say the least, and may inspire others to believe that they too can find a way to achieve what he has.
- Judge Kramer went to a prep school in Hamsptead, where he happened to be taught Latin by Andrew Thornhill KC, in his pre-barrister days, and on to Highgate School, where at the same time a young Mr Justice Jacobs was studying. Both of them were interested in theatre and they acted together in Ben Jonson’s Volpone in November 1970. I have the programme for the performance, which reveals that they both played centrally important roles: Richard Jacobs as “Servant”; and Philip Kramer as “Officer, Court Official, Citizen” – whether one or all three is not revealed. Strangely, the opportunity was missed to cast Philip as one of the four advocates or the Registrar in the Venetian court, but I am pleased to report, and his mother must have been beyond gratitude, that he was not cast as Nano, a dwarf, Androgyno, a Hermaphrodite, or Castrone, a eunuch.
- Despite this missed opportunity, young Philip studied arts A-levels and applied to university to read law. He says that his interest in the bar was sparked by reading extracts of his late father’s copy of Edward Marjoribanks’ “The Famous Trials of Marshall Hall”, watching AP Herbert’s “Misleading Cases” and listening to “You the Jury” on the radio. This learned foundation for a legal career may be contrasted, Mr Goldberg, with the recent confession of two VCs, made at the Four Vice-Chancellors Forum event earlier this year, that watching Crown Court inspired them to want to dress up in wigs and gowns. To find out which two of the four confessed to such profane motivation, you will have to watch the excellent YouTube recording of the event – available on the Newcastle Forum website.
- Before university, Judge Kramer worked, first in helping his mother in her antiques business, which included a stall in Bermondsey market on Fridays, and did his first summer holiday job for a wine importer and restaurateur, buying fruit and veg in the old Covent Garden market. In his gap year, he worked the Christmas season at the Casino Theatre in Old Compton Street, and was front of house for 70 performances of Cinderella, starring Twiggy and Lenny the Lion. In university vacations Judge Kramer worked, including one summer holiday sweeping the streets in Marylebone, outside the Bloomsbury and Marylebone County Court as it then was, in Park Crescent, where he would later appear as Counsel.
- Following a not so distinguished – but not dishonourable – graduation from the University of Newcastle, Judge Kramer returned to NW8. What to do?
- He decided not to work with his mother or sweep the streets but, initially, as a fine art shipper, packing porcelain, and then as a yacht chandler – where Judge Kramer says that he had an unfortunate encounter with Prince Andrew. From there he became a van driver for Harrods, for a year, and became a member of the Trades and General Workers Union. On applying for promotion to the piano workshop and being refused, he was told by his manager to stop bumming around in Harrods and get on with his legal career. By that time, he was living with his wife to be, Fiona – who of course is here today – and so a more secure career seemed sensible. So he chose the Bar.
- Judge Kramer joined Inner Temple and in September 1981 started his bar finals course. Many pupillage letters were written, but positive responses came there none. By a chance encounter with Brian Foster, now HH Judge Foster KC, Judge Kramer was encouraged to apply to Newcastle sets and did so. Fiona was attracted by a return to the NE.
- A second 6 pupillage in 46 Granger Street was obtained, and with that accolade, a first six at 2 Temple Gardens in London followed. Starting his second six, on day 1 Judge Kramer appeared in an Order 14 application in the morning, followed by a plea in mitigation in the magistrates court in the afternoon. And so it continued. Judge Kramer was taken on at the end of his pupillage – exactly 40 years ago.
- I will leave it to those who knew Judge Kramer at the bar to tell tales of his prowess and pratfalls. I have only two things to relate. First, he was a feared opponent, but always courteous and professional. He would fight his client’s case tenaciously, when required. Second, that he drove around in a beautiful dark green Rolls Royce. On one occasion, he was seen on the road by a colleague at the bar, apparently conducting an orchestra from the driver’s seat. He confessed later that he was in fact impersonating Lew Grade, for his own amusement. Why Lew Grade should be conducting I don’t know, but perhaps there are those present who will remember his mannerisms. Judge Kramer is in fact an extremely good mimic and an accomplished pianist. I am told that in his early days at the Bar he telephoned a colleague, pretending to be a famous High Court Judge. The response was “F*** off Phlip, I know it is you, stop wasting my time”. So his skills must have improved since then. I am informed that his replacement in Newcastle has much to fear.
- The story about the Rolls Royce I can well believe. On 15 March last year, I received an email from Judge Kramer about a ceremony to be held to welcome two new BPC silks on this circuit. It ended, rather cryptically, “I suspect you will have a bit of luggage on this occasion, and would be happy to collect you from the station, possibly in some considerable style – as to which all may be revealed.” What became apparent when I arrived was that Judge Kramer had bought himself a magnificent 1930s Austin Sheerline Limousine, with headlamps the size of dinner plates. It was two-tone, maroon and cream, so for a judge could appropriately be called a co-respondent limo. Rarely has a VC been delivered to the Moot Hall in such style.
- Speaking of style, apparently Judge Kramer always had it. An impeccable source remembers being at a party and looking across the room at a gentleman wearing second hand sailor’s trousers, fingerless gloves and a puffer jacket. The source says that he had some very weird second hand clothes including a railway guard’s uniform, which he used to wear for skiing. He then took to wearing moleskin breeches and long wooly socks and a flat cap. A passing French woman said to him: “you ‘ave ze coolest outfit on ze piste”.
- Following a successful career at the Bar, where he did mainly property, employment and common law work, Judge Kramer was first appointed a DDJ in 2000 and then became that rare breed, a Chancery Recorder, in 2008. His appointment as a salaried DJ in 2013 brought to an end 15 years of service on the list of Treasury Counsel and 14 years as a FCI Arb.
- His final incarnation as a judge began in 2017 when he was appointed the specialist civil circuit judge for Newcastle.
- This coincided with the launch of the BPC, following the recommendations of Michael Briggs in his Civil Courts Structure Review. The BPC have been a conspicuous success in the North and North East, with practitioners and their chambers now styling themselves as BPC practitioners, rather than as chancery or commercial or construction barristers or solicitors. Nowhere more so than in Newcastle, with Judge Kramer at the helm. As he told us at the 4 VCs event, after decades of having to explain to people what “Chancery” was, he has spent six years explaining what the BPC are.
- The official launch of the BPC in Newcastle was March 2018, attended by the then Chancellor, Sir Geoffrey Vos, who made the first presentation to the Newcastle BPC Forum (of which more shortly). The event was almost blown off course by freak and intense wintry weather, with the Chancellor having to battle through a snowstorm in order to reach the event: A confrontation of the meteorological beast from the East and the juridical beast from the south. Two forces of nature. In the words of the song, the storm “took on the law and the .. law won”.
- Since 2017, Judge Kramer has been both an exceptional leader of the BPC in Newcastle and an excellent judge. His warm personality, good sense of humour and ability to find time and a friendly word for everyone, have inspired confidence in his leadership here, and earned him considerable respect wherever he sits, including in Leeds and London. My impression is that his decisions are well respected and rarely challenged. In my time as VC, I have only had to consider one application for PTA against a judgment of his given in the county court, in a housing case. His judgment was clear, accurate, well-reasoned, and, most importantly, fair and entirely justified. I had no hesitation in refusing PTA. His judgments in the High Court would of course be appealed to the CA, but there are few of those – as far as I have been able to see, only 4 appeals, and only one of those (in which Judge Kramer’s decision was upheld by the CA) was an appeal from a case heard in Newcastle. I mention that, not to demonstrate the extent to which Judge Kramer was right in his decisions – no judge with any degree of self-knowledge and legal understanding would or should expect to be always right in reaching decisions in complex BPC cases. I mention it because it tends to demonstrate the extent to which local litigants and their local lawyers have confidence in the likelihood of Judge Kramer’s decision being fair and right.
- It is that reputation that Judge Kramer has earned by the impressive way that he has conducted himself and judged cases in the BPC since 2017.
- The other huge contribution that Judge Kramer has made to the law here is his strong support for the Newcastle BPC Forum. I have mentioned how it started in 2018, with the encouragement of the frost-bitten Chancellor. Since then there have been a further 20 events, of considerable variety, but all on topics of relevance and importance to those who practise in, teach, study or give evidence in cases in the BPC, including presentations given by Judge Kramer himself, Snowden LJ, Males LJ, Cockill J and myself, and by Foxton J (whose talk “Football and the Law” made a connection previously unrecognised between sports law and the BPC – though, as many of us know, football clubs and their foreign investors are a regular source of business litigation. I will leave it to Ms Falzon, who will speak shortly and has also done a huge amount of work on Forum events,, to give you some highlights of events 2 to 20 and Judge Kramer’s important contributions, but I will briefly mention two things.
- First, Forum event 21, in February this year, when Judge Kramer put on the mantle of the late Michael Parkinson and turned interviewer of four successive vice-chancellors, in front of a full lecture theatre with distinguished guests. The questioning was definitely more Michael Parkinson than Nick Robinson (though I’m not referring there to the style of Parky’s interview of Helen Mirren), and it covered the careers, interests and interesting cases of 4 successive Vice-Chancellors. The evening was delightful, even for the subjects of his examination.
- The second point to mention is that, in addition to conceiving, planning and compereing the Forum events, Judge Kramer designed and produced a bespoke poster for each of them – all of a different design and including art work contributed by Fiona Kramer. A framed copy of each of the posters is hung in the Judge’s chambers in this building, giving it something of the appearance of the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy. Applications to view must be made to HH Judge Davis-White KC.
- The Forum will definitely miss his inspiration, energy and ability to charm people into volunteering to speak. But I think that I already have an idea for a future event that may involve him.
- This leads me to a final matter on which Judge Kramer is to be thanked and congratulated. His advocacy of the merits of the Moot Hall has been untiring – if somewhat reminiscent of the lone protestor in front of the tank in Tiananmen Square. Unlike that poor man, Judge Kramer’s protests produced results (for the time being) and he is here to tell the story. Again, he was proved right because it was ultimately established that there is no other facility in the city that can provide suitably large courtroom space for large business and commercial cases at a lower cost than continuing to use this building – which incidentally is shared with the Crown Court, and the Recorder of Newcastle often sits here himself in the other courtroom. I record that I have stopped asking whether the landlord has yet removed the sofa that was blown onto the roof above us in a storm.
- So on behalf of the judiciary, I thank Judge Kramer for his long and distinguished service as a judge and wish him a very happy, long and healthy retirement, and sincerely hope that we will still see him at Forum events and on other occasions. I know that he will not entirely turn his back on the law in favour of the golf course – there will be a new edition of Charlesworth and Percy on Negligence to contribute to before long.
Simon Goldberg KC
The spring of 1983 was an auspicious time for the members of what was then 46 Grainger Street, a predecessor to what is now New Park Court Chambers. They may not have appreciated it then, but their two new pupils were the future specialist circuit judge for Newcastle (HHJ Judge Kramer) and the future designated civil judge for Newcastle (HHJ Judge Freedman). Not bad for a criminal set.
Chambers was just across the road from Mark Toney’s a local ice cream emporium which also served coffee. This was something of a boon for the pupils, whose clerk was something of a stickler for tradition and considered that, whilst Chambers could have a coffee room, it would not be in keeping with the professional environment of a barrister’s chambers to have an actual coffee machine it.
Judge Kramer fast developed a reputation as a consummate lawyer, but also someone who – let us say – liked to take his time to consider his advices thoroughly. His pupil master was Roger Thorn, whose shelves were always full of overdue paperwork, and Judge Kramer soon followed his lead. I am told he was frequently the subject of requests by instructing solicitors for updates, including one particularly exasperated solicitor who enquired of Chambers clerk and I quote “whether Mr Kramer remains in practice at the Bar, and if so when I might expect his advice”.
But Judge Kramer’s fastidious approach to his work earned him a number of admirers and led to an early appearance in the House of Lords in 1987. The case was Ferguson v Welsh, concerned with the liability of an owner of premises for injuries caused to an occupier by the negligence of the owner’s contractor. Judge Kramer was fortunate to be led by the late great David Robson QC, at that time one of the leading criminal silks in the country and a brilliant advocate. However, David’s knowledge of civil law was limited and he relied to a very great extent on Judge Kramer for the legal content of his argument.
Indeed, Your Lordship may get a picture of the dynamic at play when I say that, at one point during David’s submissions, Lord Goff expressed the view that the Judicial Committee considered that the law of agency might be of some relevance and would benefit from hearing from David on certain passages in Bowstead. David immediately turned to Judge Kramer and asked – in a stage whisper loud enough to be heard by all members of the Court – “Philip, what is this case of Bowstead when was it decided?”.
My Lord, you will know that Judge Kramer is very keen indeed on the traditions of the Bar and in particular its formal dress code. This can be traced back to his time as a junior tenant when, I am reliably told, he would often turn up in his black and stipes to Marios – a local Italian restaurant frequented by the Bar in the days when the Bar used to lunch – sometimes at the weekend. This backfired on one famous occasion when, mistaking him for the head waiter, a couple asked him to bring them a bottle of Chianti.
That desire for formality in dress continued upon his appointment as a full time District Judge – he was initially assigned to sit at Gateshead County Court, which was at that time a suite of rooms on the 5th floor of rather ugly 1960s office block on the outskirts of Gateshead Town Centre. Judge Kramer made some adjustments to his Chambers, turning the tables around so that the advocates were separated and made it clear to all who appeared in front of him that he expected counsel to be robed for all trials, even those on the small claims track. Thus Judge Kramer’s Court became known – at least amongst the junior bar – as the Court of Appeal, Gateshead Division.
My Lord, I have taken a step out of the chronology, to which I now return.
After his outing in the House of Lords, Judge Kramer developed a purely civil practice and quickly became that person in Chambers who everyone went to when they had a tricky problem. That generosity with his time, and willingness to share his knowledge, has been a feature of his career at the Bar and on the Bench. In 1998 together with other like minded practitioners he became a tenant of Plowden Buildings, where he helped to set up an Newcastle annex which would concentrate on civil work. There, Judge Kramer thrived and began to build a niche practice in Chancery and Commercial work, working nationwide on heavy and difficult cases until his appointment as a full time District Judge in 2013. I was fortunate enough to do several cases against him in the latter part of his career at the Bar. He was, as your Lordship would expect, an utterly charming opponent, never taking a bad point or seeking to take advantage of his relative seniority. I always felt that if my analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the case were the same as his, I was doing something right.
My Lord, amongst all this talk of his professional achievements, if would be quite wrong to assume that Judge Kramer was all work and no play. A talented pianist, he once arranged for an orchestra to play for his mother on her birthday, joining in with them without any difficulty at all. An enthusiastic sportsman, when not on the golf course, he could often be found patrolling the right side of defence for the Bar football team or turning out for the Bar cricket team. On the sporting field, what he lacked in skill (which, in fairness was quite a bit) Judge Kramer made up with enthusiasm. However, he had another trick up his sleeve. As your Lordship will know, Judge Kramer has a very keen interest in classic cars, and in particular high end classic cars. With places in the starting line up at a premium, he quickly learned that the promise of a lift to the game in a Rolls Royce will do wonders for your popularity with the team captain.
I know that Ms Falzon will speak about Judge Kramer’s work with the BPC Forum and your lordship has touched on a number of aspects of his judicial career,
However, on behalf of the Bar I would like to pay tribute to the role Judge Kramer has played in the development of Newcastle as a centre for Business and Property dispute resolution since his appointment as our first specialist circuit judge. Judge Kramer’s appointment as Newcastle’s first Specialist Circuit Judge came at a crucial time for business and property litigation in the region. As we were reminded last night by the Master of the Rolls, it was touch and go whether Newcastle would become part of the Business and Property Courts at all. Once chosen, there was competition from the other BPCs (for work) and other practice areas (for physical space and judicial capacity). We needed a permanent judicial figure who would be the leader and voice of the new Business and Property Court in Newcastle, making the case for local commercial dispute resolution.
We had high expectations, and they have been exceeded by some distance. Judge Kramer has a passion for the North East, which comes through very clearly in all he has done for the Court. From fighting for a permanent home for us here at the Moot Hall; to conceiving and then developing the Forum; to developing meaningful relationships with the senior judiciary which he allowed and encouraged the local professions to exploit (and much more in between) he has – more than any other Judge who has gone before him – put Newcastle on the map. All of this whilst retaining a perfectly respectable success rate at Court of Appeal.
It is a wonderful sight to see your lordship and so many of his colleagues from the ranks of the senior judiciary in their finery on the bench in Court 1 at the Moot Hall. I hope that Judge Kramer sees it – as we do – as the clear demonstration of the esteem in which he is held and the credibility he has given to this Court.
My Lord, I will conclude if I may with a personal thank you. As with so many of my colleagues at the Bar, Judge Kramer has been a mentor and ever willing referee for all of my judicial applications. It was his encouragement that led me to apply for silk. My appointment was a reflection of the success of the BPC in Newcastle and Judge Kramer was at the heart of that success. He will be greatly missed. We wish him the very best in his well deserved retirement.
DJ Cristina Falzon
As usual when I address the audience after such eminent speakers I find I am in some difficulty as the bar is so high. I am however grateful for all their words about Judge Kramer because, truly , he is all that. And much more.
I have been by his side for more than 5 years now, building and growing the Newcastle Business and Property Courts Forum. From March 2018, to be precise, when the BPC was created at Newcastle. As Judge Davis-White KC said on several occasions, this Forum is the brainchild of Judge Kramer. And a prolific child this was – as we are now looking forward to welcome our guests on Monday 2 October 2023 for our 21st event. This child now has siblings in Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester , who are no doubt looking up to the Newcastle great original and its creator.
We started having talks and events in person in 2018, we adapted to the changing world in 2020 and had them remotely, then we got back to the good old fashion face to face, having learned precious lessons. We are growing stronger as time goes by. The main constant was the resilience and tireless effort by Judge Kramer.
Needless to say it is all due to the amazing drive , enthusiasm and hard work that Judge Kramer put into it, and inspired us to follow his example. I dare to think it gave him pride and satisfaction , judging by the fact that every single poster for every single of or so far 20 events, adorns the walls in his office at the Moot Hall, neatly framed. A 21st will of course go up next week. It is the most prominent feature of an already beautiful room and no doubt gave him joy and memory prompts every time his gaze lingered upon them.
And now , as life and the judicial rules would have it, he will hand all this over to Judge Davis-White KC, who, in truth is not a stranger to the workings of our events at all. We will miss you, Judge Kramer, and we will miss your captivating story telling. We do hope you will continue to be present for us as much as your canal travels will allow. Thank you for everything.