To say that Jonathan Hirst QC, who sadly died on Monday aged 64, was a highly successful commercial silk and a star of the English Bar, would be to give only a partial description of a much-loved larger than life character, whose practice spanned over 40 years until his premature illness forced his early retirement.
He was an unmistakable presence in any room with his wonderfully infectious and hearty laugh and his booming voice. Jonathan was in many ways a man of contradictions: old fashioned in his courtesy and manners, yet modern in his ideas; from a relatively privileged background, his father being the late Lord Justice David Hirst of whom he was immensely proud, but with a common touch; a formidable advocate in court, yet approachable and easy to get on with.
He evaluated decisions both professionally and otherwise with an oft forgotten attribute, sound common sense, as well as good judgment.
He had a wonderful sense of fun and took any teasing in the best of humour. Many have been the recipient of his generosity and kindness over the years. That the sadness of his passing is shared not just by his professional peers, friends and family, but by all those who knew him, speaks volumes as to the warmth of his personality and his ability to connect with others. He undoubtedly made a lasting mark on his profession and will be greatly missed.
He joined 1, Brick Court (now Brick Court Chambers) as the late John Phillip QC’s pupil in 1975 following a degree in law at Cambridge University. Once made a tenant he quickly established a busy predominantly, but not exclusively, commercial practice as a junior barrister, with a reputation for an efficient and speedy turnaround of papers and sound advice. As his practice grew he found himself led in many important cases, including junior to the late Lord (Robert) Alexander QC in the famous case brought by the late Kerry Packer against the Test and County Cricket Board in 1977 and to Sir Sydney Kentridge QC in the Makedonia scuttling case in the early 1980s.
He took silk in 1990. He was in great demand from solicitors who recognised his legal knowledge and persuasive advocacy with very many reported and notable cases in a wide-ranging practice, including acting for the Beatles/Apple Corp in their dispute against EMI in the early 90s; the Sphere Drake reinsurance case in 2002-3; and several arbitration related cases, such as Arsanovia v Cruz City.
He gave considerable and selfless service to the profession in which he attained great and deserved distinction, first as a member and then, in 2000, as Chairman of the Bar of England & Wales and later as Treasurer of Inner Temple in 2012. In 2005 he became co-head of Brick Court Chambers which position he held for nearly 11 years. He could undoubtedly have gone to the High Court Bench, but preferred his life as an advocate and latterly, also as a much in-demand arbitrator. He took on the Chairmanship of Goodenough College in 2008.
Jonathan loved the Bar, its gossip and friendship of which he himself was a supreme example. His affinity to Brick Court Chambers was personified by his visit there only three days before he died.
Jonathan bore his long illness and its indignities with remarkable fortitude and, in particular the cruellest of all afflictions for an advocate, the inability to speak properly and, latterly, at all. He lived long enough to attend in March this year the inaugural annual commercial law lecture set up in his name by Brick Court Chambers, delivered by Lord Hoffmann.
He is survived by Fiona, his devoted wife of over 40 years, whom he himself acknowledged publicly at this event by saying that “he could not have done it all without her”, his son Charles, and his mother Pamela.
Written by Brick Court Chambers’ Hilary Heilbron QC