Obituary: Sir Robert Micklethwait
Saturday 12 September 1992
THE DEATH of Robert Micklethwait in his 90th year will bring great sadness not only to those of his contemporaries or near contemporaries who still survive but to a much younger generation who came to know him through his attainments in the field of social-security insurance in which he held a series of important appointments over a long period, culminating in his tenure of the office of Chief National Insurance Commissioner in 1966-75. It was his work in this field which earned him a knighthood in 1964 and which established effective quasi-judicial control of the system through the body of National Insurance Commissioners which has continued since.
'Robin' Micklethwait was almost born into the law. His father was St John Micklethwait QC, for many years a leading figure on the Oxford Circuit and ultimately full- time Chairman of Middlesex Sessions, a man of great charm, which his son inherited.
Robin Micklethwait was educated at Clifton and at Trinity College, Oxford. It was not surprising that he followed his father into the law and that after being called to the Bar by the Middle Temple in 1925 he joined the Oxford Circuit. He there gradually built up a substantial junior practice. His allegiance to the circuit was strengthened by his marriage in 1936 to Philippa Bosanquet whose father, Sir Ronald Bosanquet QC, was another prominent figure on the circuit.
By the early Fifties Micklethwait's practice, though almost entirely on the circuit, was such that he would have been justified in applying for silk. But in 1951 the Middle Temple elected him, still a junior, as a Bencher, an exceptional recognition of his qualities. He had always taken a deep interest in the welfare of students at a time when that was not always the case in the Inns of Court. But this election carried a penalty which in Micklethwait's case proved harsh and indeed damaging. He was required to give an undertaking that he would not apply for silk for at least two years. During those prohibited years, by chance through unexpected deaths or promotions, the opening for silks on the circuit suddenly widened. But Micklethewait was barred by his undertaking from taking advantage of the opening. Ever a man of staunch integrity, he refused either to seek release from the undertaking let alone to consider departing from it. There is no doubt that he suffered from his integrity for in 1956, when he felt free to apply for silk, which he then obtained, the opportunity had gone. He never attained the position as a silk which he had had as a junior, but this was not for the want of the necessary skills.
This led him to seek his first appointment in the field of social security. In 1961 he became National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Commissioner. Though his friends regretted this step, the succession of appointments he held in the next 15 years perhaps enabled him to give greater public service than he would have given had he stayed in practice and sought a conventional judicial career. In 1971 he was Treasurer of the Middle Temple, as his father had been before him, a post which is arduous when held with other work. But with his wife's help he was an immensely successful Treasurer.
He retired in 1975 and thereafter lived quietly at home, ever a keen gardener. Unhappily, his final years were marred by failing health and failing sight, but he will leave the warmest memories of a man of strong conscience who carried out every task which came his way with great skill.
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