From Leeds schoolboy to top UK law lord

A former Leeds schoolboy now sits in judgement in the highest court in the land.

Here, he talks to John Fisher about his early days in the city

Lord Dyson, Justice of the Supreme Court of the UK, has all the power, responsibility and prestige that goes with holding one of the top legal positions in the country – but once he was a Leeds schoolboy called plain John Dyson who suffered at the hands of teachers who dished out harsh punishments.

Now he hears cases of the greatest public or constitutional importance affecting the whole population. He sits in judgment in what is the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases, he also hears appeals in criminal cases from all over England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But he still remembers the day he was punished by a teacher in a way that would not be acceptable now – and all for throwing a snowball.

In a long and distinguished law career Lord Dyson is used to handing out punishment to fit the crime.

But corporal punishment, an integral part of education in the 1950s and 60s and dished out regularly to children, is his abiding memory from his early years.

Lord Dyson, now aged 67, was five when he began to attend Ingledew College in Leeds where he was regarded as a star pupil. However, children were repeatedly punished.

"We were given the sole or the slipper quite regularly and some teacher would suddenly hurl pieces of chalk at pupils."

His family lived in Belvedere Road, Alwoodley, Leeds, and children from another nearby school would often walk past his house.

One winter when John was seven, there was a lot of snow about and on impulse he hurled a snowball at one of the children.

A teacher saw and decided to administer her own brand of punishment.

"She took me by the hand and escorted me up the road back to her school.

"She then proceeded to lock me in the premises and left me alone for some 15 minutes which for a small child seemed like an eternity.

"The idea that could happen today is inconceivable. Behave like that today and a person would be in deep trouble."

Corporal punishment was again to feature when John attended Leeds Grammar School where, in those years, the power to punish was in the hands of the prefects.

"This was a big theme that went right through schooling in those days and the strange thing was that this cruelty was accepted as part of life," he said.

"I was quite an obedient little child although I did get beaten occasionally.

"Not only did the teachers use various implements to parts of your body but they had this thing called Prefect Executives (PE] which was like a prefect police force for students.

"If a boy was put on PE then this poor person had to appear before the assembled prefects who would dish out corporal punishment to their fellow pupils, which looking back on it was absolutely appalling."

But early life was not all about strict school regimes, Lord Dyson took piano lessons and when he was nine won a competition at LGS for playing the Bach Minuet in G.

His father bought him a handsome copy of Dickens' David Copperfield as a gift, which he still has today.

He then progressed to lessons with Dame Fanny Waterman when he was 13 and stayed with her for four years.

"I owe Dame Fanny a considerable debt of gratitude, she was a great teacher and perfectionist, the simplest piece had to be performed to concert standard.

"She opened the doors to music for me and encouraged me to develop an appreciation for piano playing which I still have today."

In fact, while at the Bar he had a taste of show business in one of his more colourful cases which involved a group called the Dave Clark Five.

Mr Clark had produced a rock musical in the 80s called Time which went into the Dominion Theatre in London with Cliff Richard.

"Mr Clark thought it was a wonderful work and that it would run and run like a Lloyd Webber, but it didn't – it lasted for about two years and lost money.

"He blamed the Box Office at the Dominion Theatre for not selling the tickets properly. And he took proceedings against the theatre claiming something in the region of 10million which was quite an extraordinary claim.

"In fact I regard this case as one of my triumphs.

"I established that there had been negligence; the box office had been a bit of a shambles, there was no doubt about that, and we were able to demonstrate that fact.

"Mr Clark was awarded damages of 600,000 which I thought was a bit of an achievement but he thought was rather disappointing."

The announcement that every Justice of the Supreme Court of the UK will in future be styled as Lord or Lady means that the former Sir John Dyson is now known as Lord Dyson.

Retirement is not on the cards but, when it does happen, Lord Dyson will probably travel a lot.

He also enjoys walking, choral singing and piano playing.

"I think I would still like to be involved in the law, possibly in an advisory capacity or an enquiry or arbitration," he says.

"At the moment I've settled down and it's such interesting work. I feel so lucky to be doing something that I really enjoy and which is important.

"But I'm not ready yet to pack up and hope to go on for another eight

years or so in the Supreme Court.

"I still get a tremendous excitement and kick and thrill out of it all."

Two universities in region get gold rating