Declassified files: Top judge moved by passengers blinded in accidents

The Lord Chief Justice wrote to Roy Mason in 1978 urging a seat belt law in NI
The Lord Chief Justice wrote to Roy Mason in 1978 urging a seat belt law in NI

Lord Chief Justice Sir Robert Lowry was so moved by hearing two cases of passengers blinded in car accidents that he wrote to the Secretary of State in September 1978 to urging a new seat belt law.

Accepting that he was “right outside my proper field”, he told Roy Mason: “The logical conclusion (also promoted by the fact that car manufacturers are already compelled to fit seat belts) is that seat belts must (subject to qualifications) be made compulsory. There is no other way.”

Lord Lowry then tore into Northern Ireland MPs such as Enoch Powell (though he was not named) who argued against such a law being sped through via an Order in Council. Mr Powell argued that such a move – irrespective of the merits of the legislation itself – was wrong as the issue should be debated in the Commons.

Lord Lowry wrote: “The political attitude of the Ulster members on an issue which is so vital to the safety of individuals (not least in Northern Ireland) is absolutely deplorable but others are not blameless. I cannot, for example, understand how Parliament could reject the measure for Great Britain.”

He ended by saying: “Please ... forgive me for taking advantage of our friendship in this way. I was moved to action in particular by two cases of total blindness sustained by front seat passengers. The actions came on in court in successive weeks last June.”

Declassified files: government considered seat belt conscience clause