Lord Pearce, 89, chairman of a government panel that rejected a proposed settlement in the then-rebel colony of Rhodesia on grounds that most blacks opposed it. Pearce, a former senior judge, visited what now is Zimbabwe as head of the government panel in 1972. His presence was regarded as the first genuine and independent outlet for black majority opinion in many years. In 1965, the white-minority government of Ian Smith had declared itself free of all remaining colonial links with Britain. But Britain was still hoping to steer Rhodesia to full independence under eventual black rule. It said the independence declaration was illegal and that independence under continuing white rule, as sought by Smith, must be acceptable to the entire population. Pearce's panel was set up to determine whether proposals for a constitutional settlement with Smith's Administration for continuing white rule were acceptable on this basis. The commission ruled that the proposals were unacceptable to most Africans there, who distrusted the Smith Administration. The issue was resolved by a conference in London in 1979. Elections were held in February, 1980, and the country gained independence from Britain on April 18, 1980, as the black-ruled Republic of Zimbabwe. Pearce was a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, or Law Lord, from 1962 to 1967. The Law Lords constitute the highest court in the land. On Monday in Sussex, England.