Jerry Pearlman: lawyer who fought for our rights

I have many reasons to be grateful to Jerry Pearlman, who has died aged 84 on 9 March 2018.  He constantly encouraged the Ramblers to use the law to rescue and assert public paths, and he represented me in the courts in our successful fight to get the notorious ‘Hoogstraten’ footpath reopened.

Jerry was honorary solicitor for the Ramblers for more than 30 years; he took on countless path battles and campaigned for freedom to roam on open country.

Born in 1933 in Redcar in the then North Riding of Yorkshire, Jerry spent his childhood in Keighley and Bishop Auckland where he went walking in the countryside with his father, Sam.  At that time he decided he wanted to be a lawyer; he took a Bachelor of Laws degree from London University and for 60 years practised as a solicitor.  His great joy was using his legal expertise to save paths, commons and national parks.

Jerry and Bernice met on a ramble to Ingleton which he had organised for the Jewish Society in 1957, and they were married in 1961.  They had two daughters, Kate and Debbie, and three grandchildren.

We do not know when exactly Jerry became honorary solicitor of the Ramblers but we believe it to have been in the first half of the 1970s—Jerry would joke that it was ‘since time immemorial’ in the legal phrase we use for claiming public paths.  He was involved in hundreds of cases, in court and at public inquiries, which confirmed our rights and clarified the law on paths.

Probably his greatest victory was in the House of Lords, the landmark Godmanchester and Drain case (2007), which set an important precedent for those claiming public paths.  And the case involving the most paths must have been the Ombersley ‘rationalisation’ scheme in the then Hereford and Worcester which threatened to divert more than one hundred paths, defeated by Jerry in 1994.

Jerry was a leader in our campaign for the right to roam and drafted the bill which later formed the basis for the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000; he attended the sessions in parliament as the bill ground its way through, briefing MPs and Peers with clever arguments.  He also exposed the iniquity of inheritance-tax exemption whereby landowners were let off paying tax if they opened their land to the public.  In his 1992 booklet ‘Give us some quo for our quid!’ he showed that the land thus ‘opened’ to the public was largely kept secret by the owners, was tiny in amount and only temporarily available.

Jerry was a powerful advocate for national parks and especially his beloved Yorkshire Dales.  In 1966 the Pearlmans bought a cottage at Stalling Busk in Raydale, and for 18 years (1983-92 and 1998-2007) Jerry served as a secretary of state appointee on the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.  His service culminated in a term as deputy chairman.  He was a vice-president of the Ramblers (2005) and president of its West Riding Area (2004).

Members of our general council will remember Jerry’s interventions, always witty and thought-provoking, often controversial and influential in the debate.  He loved gadgets and, in the days before the mobile newsflash, would intervene ‘on a point of information’ to tell us who had just won the Grand National which he had been surreptitiously watching on his tiny television.

In semi-retirement Jerry took up a new career as a cruise-ship lecturer.  He offered a choice of five talks.  Number one was advertised as ‘Some Environmental Legal Nutcases: This is my “lead” lecture telling the story of three unusual individuals who used the law and history to win environmental victories.  It is quite funny and always well received.’

I last saw Jerry last October when a number of us gathered at his Stalling Busk cottage to unveil a plaque commemorating a meeting there of the Ramblers’ Access Committee in 1996 when we discussed and drafted the forthcoming access legislation. He made a typically witty and forceful speech.

Jerry was a great figure in our movement; I shall remember him with affection and admiration, as an inspiration to all who campaign for our rights and freedoms to the land.