Lord Griffiths of Govilon

The Temple Church was packed for Hugh Griffiths’ Memorial Service last Monday. Few judges can have had so many friends, both inside and outside the law. I was on the very periphery of his fan club, because our paths did not cross very often, but he could not have been nicer whenever they did. Born in South Wales and educated at a public school, he had won the Military Cross for knocking out a German tank at the age of 20 and obtained cricket and golf blues at Cambridge before he came to the Bar.

I think I first met Hugh in the days when we were forming the London Common Law Bar Association in the early 1970s. So far as I can remember, I only appeared twice before him as a judge: once in No 2 Court of the ill-starred National Industrial Relations Court when he handled what was probably an unfair dismissal appeal with conspicuous fairness. And then when he had no hesitation in allowing my West Indian clients the cost of repatriating the dead body of a family member for burial in their home country as part of the funeral expenses in the teeth of opposition from the defendant’s liability insurers.

After he joined the House of Lords, I remember him telling me once that when he got there Desmond Ackner and he had been very well aware that certain law lords had the reputation of being unduly aggressive towards some of those who appeared there, and that they were both determined to do their best to treat all advocates with equal courtesy.

My final memory is of an occasion 20 years ago when he was chairing a meeting which was supposed to be all about arbitration. Hugh, however, decided to start it off by talking about mediation. He said he had known nothing about mediation until one day when he was playing golf in Portugal in February (as you can when you have retired, he explained) his clerk rang him to say that he had been approached with a request that Lord Griffiths should act as a mediator. Hugh said “what’s that?” and then “yes”, without much idea of what it might involve, on the basis that one should try everything once.    When he had completed 18 holes and returned to the clubhouse for lunch, his clerk rang again and said the deal was off: the parties had settled as soon as they heard who the mediator was. He later obtained a formidable reputation as a mediator – and arbitrator.

At the memorial service we learned how pleased he had been when he dismissed the great New Zealand batsman Martin Donnelly in both innings of the 1946 Oxford v Cambridge match at Lord’s, even though in the first innings Donnelly had scored 142 before he lost his wicket.  When asked why he scored so few runs at No 11, he said that they could never find anyone good enough to stay in with him.

This reminded me of my father-in-law, another New Zealander, also a fast bowler and also a natural No 11 (although, being on the outskirts of the Oxford team for three years he only took 10 first-class wickets, not 100, as Hugh did). In the Oxford match against Yorkshire in 1929 he prided himself on having dismissed the great Yorkshire and England cricketer Maurice Leyland, and also on the fact that when it was his turn to bat, the even greater Yorkshire and England cricketer Wilfred Rhodes couldn’t get him out and had to be taken off. The previous year he had been recalled to the Oxford team from a holiday in North Wales only to be hit all round the Oval by Andy Sandham (196) and two other centurions while Surrey piled up 617 for 6 declared. He loyally gave me a copy of his 1929 Wisden which records: “Oxford’s bowling met with tremendous punishment on Thursday, Surrey , in rather less than six hours, making 587 runs and only taking five wickets”. My father-in—law bowled more overs than anyone else on the Oxford side. He was rather tired when he went back to resume his interrupted holiday.

Finally, Govilon, the village from which Hugh took his title, is only four miles from Blaenavon, my mother’s home for the very first years of her life. Her father, a Welsh rugby international, was vicar there for a short time, many years before the town’s industrial landscape became a World Heritage Site. I must go there one day, and perhaps visit Govilon, too, in homage to Hugh.

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