Sir John Crossley Wood obituary

Born 1932, died 2014. Former professor and Dean of the School of Law.

I had the privilege of knowing John for some 54 years. He befriended me when I arrived in Sheffield in 1960 as a very raw assistant lecturer. John was then a senior lecturer and number two in the Department of Law to Roy Marshall. Together Roy and John had set about building up the Department from the very low point to which it had sunk by the mid-1950s. In 1955 there were just 13 full-time law students. That number grew to about 100 by the mid-60s, to about 300 by the mid-80s, and to about 2,000 by the turn of the century. It was John who initiated that fantastic growth. One of his principal tasks was to recruit ever larger numbers of able law students. He was indefatigable in that task, promoting law at Sheffield in various ways, including visiting personally a large number of the better schools. I watched with the greatest admiration as his career developed. He was firstly a fine academic and scholar, with a brilliant, quick and incisive mind. His principal subjects were Criminal Law and Employment Law; he published extensively, books and articles, in those two subjects, but he was always devoted to teaching and students. At the same time he became a leading figure in the wider University of Sheffield. He was a prominent member of the Senate, responsible for the academic governance of the University. He successfully proposed the establishment of the Academic Development Committee, whose remit was to think strategically about the University’s direction and development. One of the strengths of the Committee was that its members were elected by the Senate and elected its own Chairman. John was duly elected to membership and became the Committee’s first Chairman.

However, he also developed at least two further careers outside the academic world. He became Chairman of a Mental Health Review Tribunal and, naturally Chairman of the Chairmen. He made a significant input to mental health policy, both in giving behind the scenes advice and in public writings. For this work he was elected an honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, a signal honour for a lawyer. He also became a leading government adviser in the field of industrial relations, and I watched with admiration as this career really took off. He became a well-known industrial arbitrator and conciliator, for which work he was awarded a CBE and then a knighthood. I well remember, on the latter occasion, the headline in the local newspaper: “Knighthood for man who saved the nation’s telly.” That was a considerable understatement, because he had by then been the peacemaker in several very important industrial disputes, one of them, for example, involving BALPA (the British Airline Pilots’ Association), led by a rather youthful Mr. Norman Tebbit. John became Chairman of ACAS (the Arbitration, Conciliation and Advisory Service) and then Chairman of the Central Arbitration Committee, a kind of industrial court, mainly concerned with the recognition and standing of trade unions in the process of collective bargaining. The Times newspaper published a profile with a pen and ink sketch under the headline “Arbitration Sir John.” He served on a number of government committees, for example that on the remuneration of the police and, perhaps most significantly, that on health and safety in the workplace. He was appointed the UK representative on the International Labour Organisation (ILO), a specialised agency of the United Nations, with its headquarters in Geneva. He became Chairman of the ILO’s Committee of Experts.

It was truly a dazzling career. As well as a quick mind John had a quick and sometimes mischievous sense of humour. A few weeks ago I visited John and Sonia at their home. The conversation turned to countries and places they had visited, and to Helsinki, the capital of Finland. There they had seen the grandiose monument to Jan Sibelius, the great composer and patriot. Sonia remarked that his wife was a distinguished woman in her own right, but she was commemorated by a small plaque at the foot of the monument. John remarked, “Well, at least they got that right.”

Written by Emeritus Professor Graham Battersby