obituary: Sir Robert Megarry

October 2, 2006

Sir Robert Megarry, sometimes known as the travelling judge, was ‘equally well known as a witty conversationalist, and for his dry ripostes. Answering criticism in 1973 that judges were hopelessly out of touch, he conceded: “I don’t think they go to drug-taking parties and I have never heard of them taking part in sit-ins and peaceful picketing, strikes, queer-bashing expeditions, ton-up rambles, putting-the-boot-in forays, or using four letter words in public. To that extent, I suppose they are out of touch.”…..
A decade earlier, Megarry had attracted attention for pioneering judicial “site visits”. In 1973 he became the first Chancery judge to sit outside London, attending a mock funeral at Iken, Suffolk, which was designed to discover whether a coffin could be borne easily through a disputed right of way. But his most publicised journey came a couple of years later during what was then the longest recorded action in British legal history, extending over 221 working days. Midway through the case, Megarry and his legal retinue flew to Banaba, a 1,500-acre island on the equator, to see for themselves the ravages of phosphate mining. To preserve Megarry’s impartiality, the advance party had requested that there be no garland greetings, dancing under the moon in grass skirts, or ceremonial roasting of sucking pig.Megarry was later at pains to stress that his 18-day trip to the South Seas was strictly a tour of duty, and he tersely refuted suggestions in The Times that he had enjoyed his visit. Indeed, there were moments of discomfort. For much of the time Megarry was stricken by bekabeka, a local stomach disorder, and at one point he had to be swung into a barge in a cargo net………..As if to reinforce his point, Megarry’s next site visit was to a cesspit in Buckinghamshire (to decide whether it constituted a nuisance)’

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