We use cookies to enhance your experience on our website. By continuing to use our website, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Find out more
Sachs, Sir Michael Alexander Geddes (1932–2003), solicitor and judge, was born at 7 Park Circus Place, Glasgow, on 8 April 1932, the son of Joseph Sachs, medical practitioner, and his wife, Ruby Mary, née Ross (d. 1957), nurse. At the time of his birth registration the family lived in Penrith, Cumberland, where he was brought up. He was educated at Sedbergh School and then at the University of Manchester, from where in 1954 he graduated in law. He was then articled to the Manchester firm of solicitors Slater Heelis & Co., returning to them after he had completed his national service. He was admitted a solicitor in 1957, and on 13 July the same year he married Patricia Mary Conroy, daughter of James Conroy, a primary school headmaster, of Thrybergh, Yorkshire. They had two daughters and three sons.

On his return to Slater Heelis after national service, Sachs had hoped to rejoin the firm's commercial department but, told there was no room for him, as with many young solicitors he handled the firm's criminal practice, becoming known as a formidable advocate. Among his clients were several of the men charged with offences relating to the IRA bombings of the 1970s. Late he changed disciplines, turning to family law. He became a partner of the firm in 1962.

During the 1970s appointments to the bench, which had been almost exclusively the province of the bar, were becoming more open to solicitors and in 1977 Sachs became a deputy recorder. In 1980 he became a recorder and in 1984 a circuit judge, sitting first in Liverpool and then in Manchester. On his appointment he retired from his law practice. He had served on the council of the Law Society from 1979 to 1984, and from 1982 until 1984 was chairman of its standing committee on criminal law; in this latter position he was involved in setting up the duty solicitor scheme which ensured that defendants in magistrates' courts were represented. He was president of the Manchester Law Society in 1978–9.

Perhaps Sachs's most important and troubling case as a circuit judge was the sixteen-week long trial of the Mancunian property developer Kevin Taylor, accused of conspiracy. Taylor maintained that the prosecution had been a political one, designed to injure his friend, the former deputy chief constable of Manchester, John Stalker. (Stalker had been appointed, but in 1986 removed as, chairman of an inquiry into the Royal Ulster Constabulary's alleged shoot-to-kill policy; his removal was the subject of much speculation and allegation.) After Sachs ruled against the admissibility of certain police evidence, the case collapsed. In his book The Poisoned Tree (1990), Taylor wrote that ‘A formidable figure from the point of discipline, nevertheless [Sachs] was no shirk when it came to grasping the nail firmly’.

For centuries it was thought that a solicitor would never be appointed to the high court bench unless he had had himself first struck off the rolls and admitted as a barrister. However, in 1993 the lord chancellor, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, appointed Sachs a judge of the High Court of Justice, assigning him to the Queen's Bench Division. It was hoped that his appointment would herald more appointments of members of the ‘junior’ branch of the profession to the high court bench. Hopes were dashed, however; there were no further elevations of solicitors for another seven years, until the appointment to the Chancery Division of Lawrence Collins. Immediately on his appointment in 1993 Sachs dealt with eleven men involved in the riot at Strangeways Prison in Manchester, handing out sentences totalling eighty-eight years' imprisonment. At the other end of the judicial spectrum, in December 1995 he jailed a Totnes farmer for three months for contempt of court. The man, involved in a dispute with his local council, instead of demolishing his illegally built house as ordered, had simply removed a floor and then covered the property in earth and grassed it over. The next year Sachs awarded damages to the half-brother of a man killed in the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy, in which Liverpool supporters died before an FA cup semi-final at the Sheffield stadium. The South Yorkshire police had argued that while he had undoubtedly suffered stress he was not a sufficiently close relative to benefit. Sachs ruled otherwise.

Regarded as sharp but fair and a great judge of character, Sachs was made an honorary member of the Law Society and an honorary bencher of the Middle Temple (both in 1993) and was awarded an honorary doctorate of law from Manchester University (in 1994). He was knighted in 1993. In 1980 he had converted to Roman Catholicism. Asked what he liked to do in his leisure time he replied, ‘as little as possible’ (personal knowledge); but he had been a single figure handicap golfer. Throughout his life he was a passionate supporter of Manchester United. In his early days he had been a heavy smoker, with full-strength Capstans as his cigarette of choice. He died of liver failure at his home in Moss Lane, Timperley, Altrincham, Cheshire, on 25 September 2003, shortly before he was due to retire. His wife survived him, as did two sons and two daughters, another son having predeceased him.

James Morton

Sources  

K. Taylor, The poisoned tree (1990) · The Times (1 Oct 2003) · The Guardian (2 Oct 2003) · WW (2003) · Burke, Peerage · personal knowledge (2012) · private information (2012) · b. cert. · d. cert.

Likenesses  

photographs, 1991, Photoshot, London

Wealth at death  

£336,201: probate, 11 Nov 2003, CGPLA Eng. & Wales