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Robert Lowry, Baron Lowry

Robert Lynd Erskine Lowry, Baron Lowry Kt. PC (NI), often known as Robbie Lowry, (30 January 1919 – 15 January 1999) was a Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.[1] Knighted in 1971,[2] in the early months of the Thatcher Government, he was created a life peer as Baron Lowry, of Crossgar in the County of Down on 18 July 1979.[3][1]

Early life

His father was former Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament[4] and Attorney General for Northern Ireland William Lowry. His mother was niece of Sinn Féin activist, Robert Wilson Lynd.[4][5] He attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Jesus College, Cambridge where he read Classics, achieving a double first.[1]


During the Second World War, he fought with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in Tunisia, followed by the Royal Irish Fusiliers before becoming a Major in 1945.[1]

He has since held the title of Honorary Colonel for

  • 38th Irish Infantry Brigade - 5th Battalion and 7th Battalion
  • Royal Irish Rangers- 5th (Volunteer) Battalion [1]


He was admitted to the Bar of Northern Ireland in 1947. He was a High Court Judge in Northern Ireland from 1964 until he became Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland in 1971, when he was also made a Northern Ireland Privy Counsellor.

Prior to the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1973 coming into force, Lowry excluded confessions made by IRA suspects in Army detention on the grounds that they were not made voluntarily. The introduction of the Act reduced the scope of what was inadmissible.[4]

Lord Lowry did not exclude self-incriminating evidence alone as insufficient to convict upon, and in R v. Gorman[6] he found that the Northern Ireland Act 1972 s. 1, by retrospectively validating the conferment of powers of arrest under the regulations, rendered lawful the otherwise unlawful arrest and subsequent detention of Gorman. Lord Lowry was unable to implement Article 7 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as it was not incorporated into UK law until the Human Rights Act 1998.

In 1975, Lowry was appointed by Merlyn Rees to chair the Northern Ireland Constitutional Convention, an unsuccessful attempt to replace the collapsed Sunningdale Agreement.

In 1977, John Hume challenged a regulation under the Civil Authorities (Special Powers) Act (Northern Ireland) 1922 which allowed any soldier to disperse an assembly of three or more people. Lowry held that the regulation was ultra vires under Section 4 of the Government of Ireland Act 1920 which forbade the Parliament of Northern Ireland from making laws in respect of the Army.[4]

Lowry presided over some of the Diplock court cases. He also presided over the supergrass trial in 1983 where Kevin McGrady, a former IRA member, gave evidence which led to the conviction of seven out of ten defendants. As a result Lowry became an IRA target, narrowly missing death on at least three occasions. In 1982, having just survived a hail of IRA bullets, he proceeded to give a planned lecture at Queen's University, Belfast.[5]

He was an honorary Bencher King's Inns, Dublin and Middle Temple and he was a Law Lord.[1]

Personal life

Lord Lowry married twice:

  • Mary Martin (d. 1987), in 1948, with whom he had three daughters (Sheila, Anne and Margaret).
  • Barbra Calvert, Lady Lowry QC, in 1994 (daughter of Albert Parker CBE).

See also


Legal offices
Preceded by
John MacDermott
Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland
Succeeded by
Brian Hutton

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