Obituary: Judge Bruce Griffiths

Meic Stephens
Saturday 30 January 1999 01:02

ONE OF the most distinguished members of the judiciary in Wales, Bruce Griffiths had a reputation as a hard-working, fair-minded judge on the Wales and Chester circuit where he sat from 1972 until his retirement in 1986. He also played a prominent part in the cultural affairs of Wales.

His greatest passion was for the visual arts. He was particularly enthusiastic about modern Welsh art, filling his home at Whitchurch, a suburb of north Cardiff, with canvases and busts by contemporary practitioners, many of whom became friends.

He was appointed to the Welsh Arts Council in 1972 and to chairmanship of its Art Committee three years later. He spoke with authority and eloquence on behalf of visual artists, summoning all his barrister's skills to argue his committee's case for a greater allocation of the council's funds and taking every opportunity of ensuring that Welsh art was promoted at home and abroad. From 1981 to 1992 he was Chairman of the Welsh Sculpture Trust and did much to encourage an art-form which many regarded as still, in Wales, in its infancy.

But it was as a leading member of the Contemporary Art Society for Wales that he left the most lasting impression. Chairman from 1987 to 1992, and Vice-Chairman thereafter, he led the society in its task of commissioning and exhibiting the work of living painters with inspirational panache. He was instrumental in bringing a number of European artists to Wales. His only public reward for this selfless work was a silver medal presented to him, somewhat incongruously, on behalf of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1986.

Griffiths was born in 1924 at Barry in the old county of Glamorgan, although his family had strong connections with Aberdare. Educated at Whitchurch Grammar School in Cardiff and at King's College London, he served with the RAF until 1947 and, after demobilisation, was called to the Bar at Gray's Inn in 1952. He was a founder-member of the Bow Group, which was intended to be an effective counter to the Fabian Society, and served as its first chairman.

Although not Welsh-speaking, Griffiths thought of himself as a patriot, but one concerned with the highest standards and having no truck with the merely parochial or the second-rate, and he chose to follow a legal career in Wales. From 1964 to 1970 he was Chairman of the Local Appeals Tribunal of the Ministry of Social Security in Cardiff and from 1968 to 1972 Vice-Chairman of the Mental Health Tribunal, Wales. He was appointed Assistant Recorder of Birkenhead in 1965 and served in the same capacity in Cardiff, Swansea and Merthyr Tydfil from 1966 to 1971. Before taking silk in 1970, he was Deputy Chairman of Glamorgan Quarter Sessions and Commissioner of the Assize Roll Courts of Justice in London.

He was also well-read in English poetry. Every Christmas he would make a small anthology of his favourite poems which he sent to a select number of his friends. He suffered from asthma and spent part of the year in Mallorca, where one of his sons lives. During our last conversation, he told me with great pride that his grandchildren spoke four languages: English, Welsh, Catalan and Castilian. His wife, Mary, herself the daughter of a judge, has learned Welsh, as has their son David.

Central to Bruce Griffiths's work as a judge and his support for the visual and plastic arts in Wales was his Christian faith, which he expressed in his devotion to the Anglican Church. A regular communicant at St Mary's in Whitchurch, he was a member of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales from 1978 to 1992 and President of its Provincial Court from 1979 to 1992. He was also Chancellor to the Diocese of Monmouth until ill-health forced him to give up many of his public offices.

Meic Stephens

Bruce Fletcher Griffiths, judge: born Barry, Glamorgan 28 April 1924; called to the Bar, Gray's Inn 1952; QC 1970; judge on the Wales and Chester circuit 1972-86; married 1952 Mary Jenkins (two sons, one daughter); died Cardiff 17 January 1999.

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