Obituary: Roger Gray

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Roger Ibbotson Gray, lawyer, born 16 June 1921, President Oxford Union 1947, called to the Bar Gray's Inn 1947, QC 1967, Recorder of the Crown Court 1972-90, married 1952 Anne Hewett (one son; marriage dissolved), 1987 Lynne Towell, died 19 October 1992.

AS A RECORDER and as a Deputy High Court Judge in the Family Division, Roger Gray was known for his great tolerance and patience - qualities not always found in the judiciary.

Gray was one of many whose undergraduate lives were interrupted by the war. After Wycliffe College he became an undergraduate at Queen's College, Oxford, but left in 1942 to be commissioned in the Royal Artillery, and served with the Ayrshire Yeomanry in Normandy and north- west Europe.

In 1946 Gray returned to Oxford at a time when the ages of undergraduates ranged from those who had just left school to those 10 years their senior and included names that were to scale the heights in all walks of life. Despite this array of potential talent, Gray was named in a national newspaper as being one of a select few likely to be one of the successes of his generation. Perhaps this view was based on the fact that in the year 1946-47 he became President of the Oxford Union, appeared for his university on the cricket field and obtained a first class degree in jurisprudence. In 1947 he joined Edward Pearce's chambers where he remained until his retirement in 1990.

Though in his early professional life he was forced to devote most of his time and energies to the Bar, he still remained active in politics and in 1955 stood unsuccessfully as Conservative candidate for Dagenham. Unfortunately, having contested a hopeless seat, his growing practice at the Bar did not allow him sufficient time to seek adoption elsewhere.

This in many respects was a misfortune not only for him, because politics was always his first love, but also for the country as he had scholarship, understanding and vision, qualities not over-apparent in Parliament in the last few decades.

Gray built up a considerable practice as a junior in the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division (now the Family Division) and in 1967 took silk. Though he continued to appear mainly in matrimonial matters, and in such cases as Wachtel vs Wachtel helped to change the approach of the courts to maintenance, the cases that gave him most pleasure were those where he could indulge his considerable gifts as an advocate.

He appeared in a number of libel cases where his eloquence and his incisive cross-examination were seen at their best, not least in the case involving a military gentleman of high rank who, to the accompaniment of liberal libations of whisky, administered corporal punishment to the buttocks of nubile young women. Though he had a sense of theatre for such cases, he also possessed a sharp inquisitorial mind which was capable of unravelling the most complex problems.

In 1972 he was appointed Recorder and in his later years sat increasingly as a Deputy High Court Judge in the Family Division. He there displayed a willingness to suffer even the most tiresome of advocates. Such restraint meant that even though he was dealing with highly emotive matters involving children, very few left his court with a sense of grievance or that they had been unfairly treated.

His compassion and understanding made him a popular head of chambers who was prepared to devote time and effort to the most junior tenant or pupil. He believed strongly in an independent Bar but thought it would only survive provided there were chambers with senior practitioners who could guide the young on behaviour and etiquette.

Apart from his interest in politics and the law, Gray enjoyed conversation. He was well read and a gifted raconteur and as such his company was sought both in the clubs and the Temple. On his retirement he proposed to write at least one book but, unfortunately, this ambition was frustrated by his death. He is survived by his wife who cared for him during his illness and his son by his first marriage.

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