Image of Mortar Boards being thrown in the air in celebration

Sir Mark Hedley

Oration

Presented by: Professor Frank Sanderson

Sir Mark Hedley left the South to come to Liverpool as a student 40 years ago, and despite an illustrious career that currently requires him, as a High Court Judge, to spend most of his time in London, he resides in Everton, as he has done for the last three decades, still managing to make a significant contribution to the community he has so generously helped throughout that time.

Mark Hedley was born in central London in 1946. Both parents had been army officers during the war, his father later becoming a sub-editor with a national newspaper. 

He was sent to board at Framlingham College, an experience he greatly enjoyed: there was plenty of opportunity for sport and he became good at rugby and hockey, and although only vaguely competent at cricket, he has remained a life-long fan of the game. He also excelled academically but was grateful that the school was not as obsessed as so many schools are today with exam results.

Armed with respectable but not top-grade A Levels, he applied for and was accepted in 1965 at the University of Liverpool Law School - benefiting from the fact that the Head of the Law School, Professor Seaborn Davies, felt that there was more to being a lawyer than straight As at A Level, the latter being regarded by him as a reliable sign of a misspent youth.

Mark graduated in 1968 and was called to the Bar at Grays Inn in 1969. At this stage, he took a year out doing Voluntary Service Overseas in the Sudan, spending his time in the midst of a rural Muslim culture, an experience he found dramatic and immensely fulfilling.

Now convinced that advocacy was for him, he returned to London to a pupilage, but not long afterwards, he was drawn back to Liverpool. When he'd been a student here, he was bowled over by the city and so was delighted when offered a place in Chambers in Liverpool in 1971. 

A committed Christian, Mark strongly believes that the law should help the weak, the disadvantaged and the downtrodden. In 1972, he worked at Shrewsbury House, a youth and community centre in Everton, dispensing free legal advice to members of this working class community who had tended to see the law as anything but working for them. Realising that if he really wanted to help the community, it would be better if he actually lived in the community itself, he duly moved to Everton in 1974, and has lived there ever since with his wife, Erica.

During the early years in Liverpool, Mark developed a great interest and expertise in the law relating to children, particularly to those in care. He had correctly identified an area of real need, working with the many vulnerable people who desperately required sound legal advice and representation.

Mark Hedley became Head of Chambers in 1983, a Recorder in 1988 and a Circuit Judge in 1992. In 1993, he was appointed to the Lord Chancellor's Children's Act Advisory Committee, a group responsible for promoting good practice in this area of the law. 

In 1997, he became Director of Family Training for the Judicial Studies Board, overseeing the in-service training in family law for the judiciary. It is probable that his success in this role had some bearing on his appointment as a High Court Judge and Knight of the Realm in 2002 - a remarkable achievement for a circuit judge, especially for one without a background as a QC.

Sir Mark acknowledges that his position as a High Court Judge gives him a quite frightening amount of authority and power, making it vital that he appreciates what people feel, what their fears and expectations are, and what will be the impact of a judgment on their lives. He stresses the importance of humility, not a virtue much associated with High Court Judges. Defining it as 'a proper estimate of ourselves', he argues that:

"An essential part of humility is properly valuing all your clients and the other people you meet, rather then seeing them as a problem to be solved. They are people on whose lives you are having a profound effect" 

His role as Liaison Family Judge for Wales means that he rarely works in the Northwest, but he still remains very active in the local community:

  • He has been a lay preacher at St Peter's Church, Everton, for 30 years
  • He is on the Board of Management of Shrewsbury House, a youth and community centre in Everton
  • Former Chairman of West Everton Community Council
  • He helped establish the Alder Hey Hospital Children's Rights Advisory Group, ensuring that the voices of children were heard
  • He is Chancellor of the Diocese of Liverpool, the ecclesiastical judge of the Diocese
  • He remains an active promoter of Christian unity
  • He chaired the Family Services Unit in Liverpool, and is now President, following in the footsteps of Lady Grace Shepherd in both cases  

Far from being a figurehead, Sir Mark has always taken a personal interest and active role in the FSU.

In 2004, Sir Mark delivered the 42nd Roscoe Lecture in St George's Hall, marking the start of that year's prestigious LJMU lecture series sponsored by Professor Rex Makin. 

In the lecture, entitled 'Strengthening the balance between civil liberties and the Law', he warned that our increasingly rights-orientated culture is forcing the State to intervene more often to resolve conflicts and that this 'tyranny of the many' could ultimately lead to the erosion of our human rights. He concluded his lecture by calling on citizens to remember that when exercising their rights that they have a responsibility to consider others and treat them with respect. 

The values espoused by Sir Mark Hedley are evident in all aspects of his professional and community-based life. He is most certainly someone who practices what he preaches. He is champion of the vulnerable and the disadvantaged, he is community-minded, he displays great generosity of spirit and he is a man of great integrity. He embodies all of the characteristics that a fair and just society would expect to see in members of its judiciary.  

Through his deeds and his achievements, he is a worthy recipient of a Fellowship today.

Thus I have pleasure in presenting Sir Mark Hedley, this most distinguished son of our region, for admission to our highest honour of Fellow of Liverpool John Moores University.