Lives of the fellows

Roger Fray Greenwood (Sir) Ormrod

b.20 October 1911 d.6 January 1992
BA Oxon(1935) MA BM BCh(1941) *FRCP(1969)

Roger Ormrod was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland, the son of Oliver Fray Ormrod, a solicitor, and his wife Edith née Pim. He was educated at Shrewsbury School and The Queen’s College, Oxford, with a medical career in mind. In his own words, he found botany and zoology ‘sheer murder’ and anatomy, which he failed, far worse. The college authorities then agreed that he could read law and he graduated in jurisprudence in 1935. After being called to the Bar in 1936 he still felt he should use his preclinical training and entered St Thomas’s Hospital medical school. When a tempting opening occurred in one set of Chambers the medical school dean agreed that he could always return to the hospital if the arrangement proved unsatisfactory, or if he had to wait for briefs.

On the outbreak of war in 1939, Ormrod realized that he would certainly be recalled to complete his medical training and in 1940 he gained a place in the newly established medical school at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford, where he qualified in 1941. After a brief spell as a house physician at the Infirmary, he joined the RAMC as a regimental medical officer and ended the war with the rank of major on the HQ staff of 8 Corps. His reluctant decision to return to the Bar was made after a visit to the Radcliffe when he became aware - on seeing the number of white coats in the residents’ room - that future competition in medicine would be severe.

Ormrod claimed that chance took him into the divorce field, which he called another clinical situation, but he was often engaged in cases of medical negligence. He took silk in 1958 and subsequently became a judge in the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division in 1961, when he was also knighted. In 1974 he was appointed to the Court of Appeal, became a Privy Councillor and was also concerned with the Family Division and Divorce County Courts. He retired prematurely in 1982 in order to pursue his varied interests, although he continued to sit part-time.

Ormrod’s judgements may have been influenced by his clinical training. In his view, precedent could degenerate into a technique which enabled judges to resolve their anxieties, while forensic technique was too clumsy to dissect complex familial interactions. In 1967 he became the first High Court Judge to order a blood test on a child to determine which of two men was the father. He also presided over the first case in English Law in which sex determination had to be decided.

In Corbett v Corbett, 1970, known as the April Ashley case, Mr Corbett asked for a declaration that there was no marriage because April was a male until the age of 20 years but then had surgery, including construction of a pseudo-vagina, before marriage. The opposition suggested that because April had adopted a female role and had been given a female gender she should be regarded as a woman for the purpose of marriage. In Ormrod’s judgement April was a male with regard to the marriage because of the evidence about genitals, gonads and chromosomes. Before surgery there had been a small penis, no evidence of female genitalia, and the testes were present in the scrotum. The Y chromosome was present in all the cells examined.

Although Ormrod maintained his contacts with the Oxford medical school as a lecturer in forensic medicine, from 1950-59, he disarmingly said that his eight lectures a year were not popular because they were held on Saturday mornings. He later became a governor of Bart’s and the Maudsley and Bethlem Royal Hospitals; chairman of the Lord Chancellor’s Committee on legal education, of the British Postgraduate Medical Federation and of the committee of management of the Institute of Psychiatry.

He was president of the British Academy of Forensic Science and honorary professor of legal ethics at Birmingham University. Because of his special interest, he was chairman of the Notting Hill Housing Trust for 20 years.

His publications extended over almost 50 years. With E H Pearce he edited Dunstan’s The Law relating to hire-purchase, 4th ed, London, Sweet & Maxwell, 1939. In 1950, in collaboration with Harris Walker, he published The National Health Service. The Acts of 1946 and 1949, reprinted from Butterworths Annotated Legislation Service (Laws and Statutes -IV NHS 1950), and as late as 1987 he collaborated with Jacqueline Burgoyne, a sociologist, and Martin Richards, a psychologist, in a book entitled Divorce matters.

In 1938 Roger Ormrod married Doris Ann Lush who later became a magistrate and marriage guidance counsellor. They had no children of their own, but in their London home they accommodated many young people early in their careers.

H L’Etang

* Elected under the special bye-law which provides for the election to the fellowship of "Persons holding a medical qualification, but not Members of the College, who have distinguished themselves in the practice of medicine, or in the pursuit of Medical or General Science or Literature.."

[Brit.med.J., 1992,304,1172; The Times, 9 & 20 Jan 1992; The Guardian, 15 Jan 1992;Doctor, 25 July 1985; Medical News-Tribune,13 Nov 1972; Middx.Hosp.J., April 1969,69,(2),59-61; Medico-Legal J., 1977,45,104]

(Volume IX, page 400)

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