Coldstream Sir George

Male 1907 - 2004

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  • Title  Sir 
    Born  20 Dec 1907 
    Gender  Male 
    Died  19 Apr 2004 
    Person ID  I667  My Genealogy
    Last Modified  3 Feb 2013 

    Family  Grant Sheila Hope,   b. 1912, Simla, India Find all individuals with events at this location,   d. 2011, Seaford, Sussex Find all individuals with events at this location 
    Married  1949 
    Last Modified  3 Feb 2013 
    Family ID  F255  Group Sheet

  • Notes 
    • Obituary from the Telegraph, 23rd Apr 2004:

      'Sir George Coldstream, who died on Monday aged 96, was one of the key figures in the British justice system as Clerk of the Crown in Chancery and Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor from 1954 to 1968.

      Tall and distinguished-looking, Coldstream was happy exercising his influence on legislation and senior judicial appointments in the discreet atmosphere of the Lord Chancellor's Office. He had an intense dislike of personal publicity, which made it ironic that he was singled out in the press as "one of the 10 men who run Britain".

      Such interest was fanned first by the Act for the creation of non-hereditary peerages and then by Anthony Wedgwood Benn's campaign to be allowed to renounce his inherited title of Viscount Stansgate.

      In 1961 Coldstream made a rare visit to the Commons, resplendent in full-bottomed wig. This was to sign documents enabling the Tory candidate in Bristol South East, who had come second in a by-election caused by the expelled Benn's involuntary ennoblement, to take the seat.

      After a Peerage Act to permit the renunciation of titles was passed in 1963, Benn described in his diary how Coldstream had come into his office in the Lords, placed his wig on the table, then quickly went through the instrument before declaring it "in order". Benn put his right thumb on the instrument's green seal and, as he handed it back to Coldstream, was metamorphosed back into a commoner. "Sir George was absolutely charming and his face was wreathed in smiles," Benn recorded. "He said that he was glad I was the first to renounce and he showed me the Register of Renunciation which had been specially prepared pursuant to the Act, in which the names of those who had renounced would be written. My name will go as No 1.

      "Sir George then said to Mother how much everyone missed Father [the 1st Viscount Stansgate, who had been a Labour minister] and what a popular member of the House he had been."

      When, nine weeks later, the Earl of Home renounced all six of his peerages to sit in the Commons as prime minister, Coldstream was photographed outside 10 Downing Street holding aloft a briefcase containing the papers dealing with Douglas-Home's renunciations, in the manner of a Chancellor of the Exchequer.

      The son of a stockbroker, George Phillips Coldstream was born on December 20 1907, and educated at Rugby and Oriel College, Oxford. He was called to the Bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1930.

      He served as Assistant Parliamentary Counsel to the Treasury from 1934 to 1939 and as Legal Assistant at the Lord Chancellor's Office from 1939 to 1944. For the next 10 years he was Deputy Clerk to the Crown in Chancery and Assistant Permanent Secretary to the Lord Chancellor.

      Whenever an important constitutional change was contemplated, Coldstream was the bridge between Whitehall and the House of Lords, ensuring that the consequences were at least considered - whether it was the decision to enter the Common Market, the setting-up of the Law Commission, changes in the Royal Assent Act or tightening of the rules governing ministers' memoirs.

      The Lord Chancellor Viscount Simonds confided to Coldstream his exasperation at Lord Denning's "sloppy" judicial thinking. When Home, as Foreign Secretary, was concerned about the legality of the American blockade of Cuba during the missiles crisis, he talked to Coldstream. Ever loyal and tactful, Coldstream would have been horrified at the leaks of confidential information that occur today.

      In his capacity as Clerk of the Crown in Chancery, he was responsible for ballot papers and other documents relating to Parliamentary elections. His duties included preparing writs of summons for each new Parliament, which by custom he signed with his surname only. If he made a mistake, he once observed, he was liable to a 100 fine; but a larger fine was unlikely since he would be out of office before he could make another error.

      Among other measures with which Coldstream was involved were the Royal Assent Act, which determined that both houses did not have be present for a bill to become law. From 1944 to 1946 he was a member of the British War Crimes Executive, which involved looking at unedited newsreel footage of the concentration camps and helping to plan documentation before the trials of the Nazi hierarchy.

      In addition, Coldstream was also a member of the Evershed Committee on Supreme Court Practice and Procedure from 1947 to 1953, and an architect of the Anglo-American Legal Exchanges scheme in the 1960s which led to considerable improvements in Supreme Court procedures. He also served as a special consultant to the American Institute of Judicial Administration in New York from 1968 to 1971.

      Coldstream was instrumental in setting up the Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions which recommended the replacement of the centuries-old system of assize and quarter sessions courts by a single Crown Court with jurisdiction to sit wherever it was needed.

      As chairman of the Council of Legal Education from 1970 to 1973, he bore the brunt of student unrest over conditions at the Inns of Court School of Law and the Bar's controversial new education scheme introduced by his predecessor Lord Diplock.

      Coldstream was devoted to the law. He once said that wrong legal advice was more damaging than wrong medical diagnosis: the doctor could only kill you off, whereas the lawyer's errors might damage a family for two or more generations. "We lawyers see human nature at its worst and at its best," he said. "Greed and generosity, altruism and narrow-mindedness, honesty and deceit, are no strangers to our offices."

      Although he looked austere as he peered over his half-moon glasses, Coldstream had flashes of Wodehousian humour, particularly at the annual dinners of Seaford Golf Club, where he was president for 30 years in succession to his father and elder brother.

      In contrast with the pinstripe suits and bowler hats he wore in his professional life, off duty Coldstream wandered around in trousers tied up with string. Although not a great one for parties, he was a generous host.

      He was also a keen sailor, and kept a modest cruising yacht at Newhaven.

      As he grew older, he suffered from severe rheumatoid arthritis, but he coped with the help of daily dips in the sea near his home on the south coast.

      He was a voracious reader, given to reciting long passages from Shakespeare and The Pickwick Papers.

      George Coldstream was appointed CB in 1949; KCB in 1955; and KCVO in 1968.

      In 1934 he married Mary Carmichael; they had two daughters, one of whom died in infancy. After a divorce he married Sheila Hope Whitty, who survives him.'

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