Sir David Keene QC PC - 2001
The Royal Charter which empowers this University to award degrees also places upon it certain obligations. Just as the University is obliged to have a Vice-Chancellor, a Council, a Senate, and a Students' Union, so the Charter requires Brunel to have a Visitor.
Despite the role's mediaeval origins, the modern-day Visitor has an entirely contemporary task - determining the outcome of otherwise insoluble disputes. When all internal avenues for the resolution of an appeal have been exhausted, appeal to the Visitor - by a student or member of staff - provides access to external, independent and final judgement.
The Charter gives to the Visitor the authority “from time to time and in such manner as the Visitor shall think fit to direct an inspection of the University, its buildings, laboratories and general equipment and to conduct an inquiry into the teaching, research, examinations and other work done by the University." In other words, the powers of the Visitor slightly exceed those given through Admiralty commission to Captain Bligh on his taking command of 'The Bounty'.
Brunel's first Visitor was Lord Hailsham, who fulfilled the role with distinction. When he retired as Visitor in 1995 we thought we might never find his equal. The University nevertheless set about the search for a successor, and was advised about all the brightest and best of the young high court judges of the day. No student of racing ever studied form more closely than did the Vice-Chancellor and the Secretary General when considering the merits of these paragons of British justice. A leader amongst them was Sir David Keene.
Sir David shares with our Vice-Chancellor a common background - in having been a pupil of Hampton Grammar School. On leaving school David Keene went up to Balliol College, Oxford, to read Law. By the time he graduated in 1963 with a brilliant degree, David Keene had won more College and University Prizes than is respectable in a young man. Not content with scooping all the honours Oxford University had to offer, he then went on to win the Bar Finals International Law Prize in December 1963, an Inner Temple Major Scholarship, and then a Fellowship to France to read French Law. David Keene was called to the Bar in 1964.
Just as David Keene's student days were packed with event and glory, so his career demonstrated an abundance of activity packed into a short space of time. After experience as a law lecturer at University College London, and as a Research Assistant for the Law Reform Committee, David Keene was called to the Bar in 1965.
He undertook a great deal of town planning law. As a barrister and, from 1980 as a Queen's Counsel, David Keene promoted London City Airport in Docklands; a new terminal for Birmingham Airport; regional shopping centres at Trafford Park in Manchester and Bluewater Park near Dartford; and a new small town at Woodham Ferrers in Essex. He resisted, successfully, a new deep mine at Hawkhurst Moor near Coventry, a regional shopping centre near Leicester, a toxic waste incinerator at Doncaster and a new settlement in the Green Belt in South Essex.
Modesty persuades David Keene to confess that he failed to prevent the Third London Airport being built at Stanstead and the construction of several sections of the M25.
In 1994, in the middle of promoting a second runway at Manchester Airport, he was made a High Court Judge.
Here, then, was a man of formidable talent. A respected judge who had contributed to British jurisprudence, who had contributed to the development of Amnesty International, chaired numerous national working parties, who was wise in the ways of the world - and clearly blessed with extraordinary energy. This was not a judge who, like his apocryphal colleague, would turn to his Court Clerk to ask “what are the Beatles?" So in 1995 we asked Sir David if he would become Brunel's Visitor and to our delight he agreed to be nominated for this position to the Privy Council.The numbers of cases going forward to the Visitor are not high. They can, however, be complex. Sir David's judgements in appeal cases have been models of clarity. In the judgements he gave us, all the issues in the appeals were identified and expressed succinctly. The relevant evidence was then addressed, and a clear judgement reached in each and every issue in the appeal. Brunel enjoyed five years under Sir David's Visitorial jurisdiction - and found his involvement in University affairs universally just and enlightened.
Brunel was not the only busy talent scout at the end of the last century. The Lord Chancellor's office had also identified a man with further untapped potential. Last year, Mr Justice Keene was promoted to Lord Justice of Appeal. In this capacity Lord Justice Keene has taken on a workload of prodigious proportions. At the end of his first period of appointment as Visitor to Brunel, Sir David indicated reluctantly that he could not accept a second term.
Sir David Keene is only the second Visitor in Brunel's history. He has, like his predecessor, fulfilled that role with the utmost distinction. The University is in his debt.
Chancellor, for his work as a man of the Law, for his contributions to public policy, and for his especial contribution to the life and history of this University, I present to you David Wolfe Keene for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
LLD - July 2001