Roderic Bowen

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The Independent Online

Evan Roderic Bowen, barrister and politician: born Cardigan 6 August 1913: MP (Liberal) for Cardigan 1945-66; QC 1952; Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means, House of Commons 1965-66; President, St David's University College, Lampeter 1977-92; died Cardiff 18 July 2001.

Roderic Bowen was for many years a pillar of the Liberal Party and one of Wales's most respected legal figures. He represented Cardiganshire in the Commons from 1945 to 1966 and came within an ace of being appointed Speaker in the 1960s.

When Labour won power in 1964 Harold Wilson was keen to see Bowen assume the post. But the Prime Minister was made aware that he would have difficulty in selling the idea to his parliamentary party at a time when the Government was surviving on a wafer-thin majority. In the event Dr Horace King, the Labour Member for Southampton Test, took the Speaker's chair, with Bowen being appointed Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means – in effect Deputy Speaker – in 1965.

Bowen was born in Cardigan, the son of Evan Bowen, a respected figure in the west Wales town. After attending local schools he studied law at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, 40 miles up the coast, and at St John's College, Cambridge.

He practised at the Bar with chambers in Cardiff until 1940. Then, as a staff officer in the Judge Advocate-General's Department, he presided over military courts when hostilities ended and war criminals were brought to book. One case involved five Germans accused of shooting the Australian crew of an aircraft which came down in enemy territory.

In the Fifties and Sixties he held successive posts as Recorder in Carmarthen, Merthyr, Tydfil, Swansea and Cardiff. In 1948 he was elected President of the Liberal Party in Wales and four years later became a QC, an accolade all the more significant because he was the first Welshman to take silk in more than half a century.

Losing his seat at the 1966 general election, he chaired a committee looking into road signs policy set up in response to a campaign for bilingualism spearheaded by the Welsh Language Society, whose members pulled down English-only signs in many parts of Wales. The committee even travelled to Finland to see how the issue was tackled there.

Bowen displayed great wit in private and was much admired as an after-dinner speaker. Lord Hooson, a former leader of the Liberal Party in Wales, recounts a tale about the first visit the then Lord Chief Justice Parker made to Wales in the 1970s. Bowen remarked to the distinguished guest: "You are about to meet a Welsh jury for the first time. Beware. Welsh juries are against sin – but not dogmatically so."

Tony Heath