Lord Griffiths of Govilon: Law lord who won the MC, helped win the County Championship and made many important judgments

Griffiths acquired a reputation as a judge who wanted to give defendants "a second chance" and also played cricket against Don Bradman's Australians

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The Independent Online

Hugh Griffiths won the Military Cross at the age of 20, and was later a law lord, President of the MCC and Captain of the Royal and Ancient. In a legal career that spanned six decades, the charming and charismatic Griffiths served in many of the judiciary's highest positions, including Lord Justice of Appeal (1980-85).

But he thought his career was in tatters almost before it had started following his involvement in the celebrated Oz case. The editorial team – Richard Neville, Felix Dennis and Jim Anderson – had been convicted under the Obscene Publications Act for producing a "schoolkids' issue" and sentenced to between nine and 15 months' jail in 1971.

Griffiths granted them bail pending appeal, on the grounds that the sentences were "considerably more severe than usually imposed for this type of offence". However he received a note from the then Lord Chief Justice which read simply, "It is not our policy to grant bail." He feared his career was over, he told another judge, who replied, "You'll be wearing beads and playing a banjo next."

He might not have gone into the law: he played cricket for Glamorgan, 38 matches in all, taking 102 wickets, and helping them win the County Championship in 1948. Despite this he was released, but he went on to enjoy a fruitful career in sports administration.

As President of the MCC in 1990 he had to tackle a proposal to admit women members. Although in favour of change, Griffiths put to a vote the question of whether the former England women's captain, Rachael Heyhoe Flint, was eligible, only to see the proposal rejected. In 1999 she was one of the first 10 women admitted, as an honorary life member.

In 1993 he headed an investigation into state of English cricket following David Gower's exclusion from a losing tour of India. Griffiths suggested doing away with the Cricket Council and combining the Test and County Cricket Board with the National Cricket Association. In 1997 the England and Wales Cricket Board was formed out of all three.

Born in 1923, Hugh Griffiths was the son of the eminent surgeon Sir Hugh Ernest Griffiths and his wife Doris James. He was educated at Charterhouse then commissioned at 18 into the Welsh Guards. He won the MC as a lieutenant in the 2nd Armoured Reconnaissance Battalion during the advance from Brussels.

With intelligence that four German Panther tanks could be threatening the battalion's position, Griffiths volunteered to investigate. Taking his tank, he evaded a shot from one of the Panthers before manoeuvring and waiting in a nearby wood to ambush it. With three quick rounds it was eliminated, and the other three withdrew. Holding his position, Griffiths also destroyed two enemy transport vehicles. His citation stated: "there was no doubt that Griffiths had broken up what might have been a serious attack on our left flank, an attack which might have menaced our entire position."

Demobbed in 1946, Griffiths read law at St John's College, Cambridge, where he was a double Blue in cricket and golf. He opened the bowling at Lord's in the Varsity matches for three years in a row and in his final year played against Don Bradman's Australians at Fenner's, though he was dismissed for a single.

In 1949 he was called to the Bar and spent much of his early years in personal injury work. Taking silk in 1964, he came to public attention in 1968 when he chaired the inquiry into the Ronan Point disaster in which four people died and 17 injured when part of a new tower block in Newham, East London, collapsed following a gas explosion. His report concluded that the building had been structurally unsound due to the use of prefabricated concrete panels badly "bolted together like Meccano". It made a number of recommendations which resulted in changes to building regulations.

Griffiths acquired a reputation as a judge who wanted to give defendants "a second chance"; in 1971 he was appointed a High Court judge. Two years later he served on Edward Heath's ill-fated Industrial Relations Tribunal which dealt with redundancy appeals, strikes and other labour disputes. When Labour returned to power in 1974 the Tribunal was abolished.

In 1980 Griffiths was promoted to the Court of Appeal and was soon involved with the Moors murderer Myra Hindley, who wanted to prevent The Sun publishing extracts of her plea to the Parole Board. He refused to lift the injunction granted to her, explaining that it would damage the parole system if prisoners feared confidential submissions could be leaked to the press.

In 1983 he described the MoD mole who had leaked a secret memo on the arrival of cruise missiles at Greenham Common as "untrustworthy", adding that it was "a very serious threat to national security." Sarah Tisdall was exposed and given six months' jail.

He also presided over the fourth divorce of the industrialist and art collector Baron Thyssen from Denise Shorto in 1985. Griffiths told the gum-chewing wife that a higher settlement was out of the question regardless of whether her husband "may turn out to have £1,000m rather than £400m". Still chewing gum, her retort was, "You win some, you lose some."

Between 1985 and 1993 he was Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and was created a life peer in 1985. Shortly afterwards, he contributed to the unanimous refusal of the House of Lords to grant a permanent newspaper ban on articles about Spycatcher, the former MI5 officer Peter Wright's memoirs, adding, "Publication might be better as it was such a boring book".

Before retiring in 1993 he quashed the verdicts on Earl Pratt and Ivan Morgan, after 14 years on death row in Jamaica, on the basis that executing them would breach the country's constitution. This judgment had ramifications for other condemned prisoners.

Griffiths was a member of the Advisory Panel on Penal Reform (1967-70) and the Lord Chancellor's Law Reform Committee (1976-93). In retirement, he continued to work as an arbitrator and mediator in international and domestic commercial and other disputes.

William Hugh Griffiths, lawyer and administrator: born 26 September 1923; a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary 1985–93; Kt 1971; cr 1985 Life Peer, of Govilon; married 1949 Evelyn Krefting (died 1998, three daughters, one son), 2000 Baroness Brigstocke (died 2004), 2009 Greta Fenston; died 30 May 2015.

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