John Thomas is the next Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.
One late evening in the office in the Royal Courts of Justice, when Nicholas Phillips was Chief, a plummy-voiced colleague put it to me that there were ‘Only four people who know what’s going on here’; other than ‘chiefy’ himself, this included Lord Justice Thomas.
I had myself, a couple of years earlier, been personally John-Thomas’d. He was on the consultative group of judges for the constitutional reform programme, and in early 2006 I had to run past them my draft of an unarousing ‘memoranda of understanding’ on how the office for judicial complaints was going to function. The judge tore into it like a tornado. I meekly endured this battering, rewrote the document and took it with me to his office. This time he was becalmed, a bit charming, a bit distracted. I was accompanied by Debora, the director of the nascent judicial office, who shortly afterwards was diagnosed with cancer which deprived the world of a kindly person in her professional prime.
John Thomas has an air of an intellectual man-in-a-hurry, beaming nose and a rebellious white mane – which since seems to have been tamed by the clippers. He talks rapidly, earnestly, with a very faint smirk suggesting that may be it wouldn’t be the end of the world if the problem in hand was not addressed. But all the same he was a force of nature, ending his rat-a-tat breathless soliloquys with a staccato plea, enunciating each word, like ‘We simply have to do this, proper-like, you see?’; or ‘It just… cant… go… on… so please, [insert name], do what you can to sort this out. Ok?’
Then we would be dismissed and head back to the office to do his bidding. Behind the closing door he’d no doubt be re-furrowing his brow over some other issue which awaited his fixing.
And he also cares about the EU.