Lowry, Robert Lynd Erskine (1919–99), Baron Lowry , lord chief justice of Northern Ireland, was born 30 January 1919, only son of William Lowry (qv), judge of the Northern Ireland high court, and his wife Catherine Hughes, daughter of the Rev. R. J. Lynd, DD. He was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where he was cricket captain and played for the Irish Schools, and at Jesus College, Cambridge, where he took first-class honours in parts I and II of the classical tripos. He enlisted in 1940, and in 1941 was commissioned into the Royal Irish Fusiliers, with whom he served in the Tunisian and Italian campaigns. He subsequently became honorary colonel successively of the 5th and 7th Battalions of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 5th Battalion of the Royal Irish Rangers.
Lowry underwent a brief legal education and was called to the bar of Northern Ireland in 1947. He acquired a high-quality practice with great speed, and from 1948 till he took silk in 1956 he was junior counsel to the attorney general for Northern Ireland. His acute analytical mind fitted him particularly for appellate work and he was retained on one side or the other in almost every case that went to the house of lords. He was appointed a judge of the high court in 1964 at the early age of 45. As a young judge he adopted standards of courtesy and patience that have set the pattern for succeeding judicial generations.
When Lord MacDermott (qv) retired in 1971, Lowry was the natural choice as his successor as lord chief justice. From an early stage he established his hegemony by the quality of his judicial work, allied with a fine diplomatic sense in his dealings with his colleagues, several of whom had been considerably senior to him in practice and on the bench. His quiet courtesy in court was matched by an unruffled good humour off the bench, and he always found time to give support and encouragement to younger judges finding their way in a new environment.
Internment commenced the week after Lowry took up office, and the level of civil disturbance was at its height. The incidence of murder and maiming was distressingly high and members of the judiciary did not escape. Five were murdered, another judge was seriously wounded, and Lowry himself narrowly escaped an assassination attempt when arriving to give a lecture at QUB. Emergency legislation was introduced into Northern Ireland in 1973, when the ordinary criminal processes had come under intolerable strain, and Lowry and his fellow judges had to undertake the operation of an unfamiliar system of non-jury trial for terrorist offences. He determined that the inroads of emergency legislation into the historic edifice of the common law should be kept to a minimum, and he strove successfully with steadfast independence to preserve the traditional standards of justice from distortion or dilution.
In 1975 Lowry was asked to become chairman of the Northern Ireland constitutional convention, in which the representatives of political parties engaged in an attempt to agree upon a constitution for the province, after the breakdown of the assembly and executive the previous year. The efforts proved fruitless after many months of sittings at Stormont, when the convention broke up without agreement having been reached, in spite of Lowry's skilled and shrewd chairmanship. His fairness, patience, and good humour won him the admiration and respect of a diverse range of politicians and his mastery of the procedural intricacies in a strange field was proof against the wiles of even the most astute campaigner.
In 1979 Lord Lowry became a life peer and frequently sat in appeals to the house of lords, while carrying on with his work as lord chief justice. In 1988 he was appointed a lord of appeal in ordinary, and in this final phase of his career till retirement in 1994 he was engaged full-time in appeals to the house of lords. His learning, acumen, and great breadth of experience made him a valued member of a very strong court. It may be regarded as a loss to the development of the law that he was not appointed earlier, at an age when he might have become a major contributor to the judicial work of the house.
Throughout his long judicial life Lowry produced a stream of judgments on an enormous variety of subjects, lucidly and succinctly expressed in elegant prose which owed much to his classical training. In an age in which the judicial work product has grown ever longer and more diffuse, his beautifully crafted judgments were a welcome reminder that the standards set by James Shaw Willes (qv) and Edward Macnaghten (qv) a century earlier could still be attained. If at times his quest for perfection, together with the other calls on his time, caused some delay in the production of reserved judgments, when they finally appeared they were so cogent in reasoning and clear in expression that little remained to be said, as tributes from the house of lords testified.
Outside the law Lowry was heavily involved with educational matters. He was a governor for fifteen years of his old school, of which he was elected, as a mark of distinction, to the revived office of president of the Institution in 1996. He was chairman of the board of Richmond Lodge School for twenty-one years and visitor of the University of Ulster from 1989 till his death. He was an Honorary Bencher of Middle Temple and of King's Inns, Dublin, and honorary degrees were conferred upon him by QUB and the New University of Ulster.
Following his early prowess at cricket Lowry turned to golf, at which he played off, and to, a low handicap for many years. He was captain of two leading clubs, Royal Portrush (twice) and Malone, and president for many years of the former club. He led the Malone senior team to many victories in the 1950s, the most notable of which was the Irish Senior Cup. He made himself an authority on the rules of showjumping, in which his family was heavily engaged, and became an international judge with worldwide experience.
He married first (1945) Mary Audrey, daughter of John Martin; they had three daughters. She died in 1987, and in 1994 he married Mrs Barbara Calvert, QC. Lowry died in hospital in London on 15 January 1999; the funeral service was held at Lissara Presbyterian church, Crossgar, Co. Down. There is a portrait by Carol Graham in the Bar Library, Belfast, and photographs there and in the judges’ corridor. Copies of his judgments are kept in the Supreme Court Library in Belfast, and a selection is to be published.