Sir Roger Ormrod

Sir Roger Fray Greenwood Ormrod QC FRCP PC (1911–1992) was a Lord Justice of Appeal (1974–1982) and a significant figure in the development of the jurisprudence of no-fault divorce in the English courts. His best known finding, in the case Corbett v Corbett (1971), was that the male-to-female transsexual partner to a marriage, while a woman for many legal purposes, did not qualify as a woman for purposes of marriage. He ruled that Miss April Ashley, who had had a sex change operation in Spain in 1960, was ‘not a woman for the purposes of marriage but a biological male and has been so since birth’. Her marriage to Mr Arthur Corbett, the eldest son of the 2nd Lord Rowallan, the Chief Scout, was consequently void. He also ruled that Mr Corbett’s £6 a week alimony to Miss Ashley should cease.

From Shrewsbury School Ormrod read jurisprudence at The Queen’s College, Oxford, and was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1936. However, his father insisted that he train as a doctor. After serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps 1942–5, where he saw service in Normandy, North-West Europe, being one for the medical personnel to enter Belsen, and in India, he was demobilised with the rank of major. Returning to legal practice, he specialised in divorce cases interspersed with medical negligence work. He took silk in 1958 and in 1961 was appointed a judge of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty division. In 1962 he granted an Englishwoman a divorce against her Belgian husband, but warned ‘When a woman marries a man of 31 who has never done a day’s work in his life, she must accept that she is marrying a considerable problem’.

In 1967 he became the first High Court judge in British legal history to order a blood test on a child in order to establish which of two men was her father. The case was brought by the mother, her former husband, and the man he cited when obtaining a divorce. None knew which of the two men was the girl’s father. After much deliberation, Ormrod’s judgment was upheld by the Court of Appeal. Whilst the stream of cases that came his way must have had its depressing side, he often took a lighter view. In 1973 he refused to intervene in a case in which a man was living in the same house as his ex-wife, their 3 children, his new wife, and her two children. Whilst admitting that it was ‘a proper pickle…, an appalling situation’, he added that ‘it must be quite fun for all the children running about’. One of his obituaries said of him that ‘procedure was never allowed to obstruct the attainment of a fair result’.

From 1975, he sat regularly in the division of the Court that heard appeals from the Family Division and Divorce County Courts, over which he eventually presided from 1979 until his retirement. He held many other appointments including the Chairmanship of the Lord Chancellor’s Committee on Legal Education and the Presidency of the He was a governor of St Bartholomew’s Hospital and of the Maudsley and Bethlem Royal Hospitals as well as Chairman of the Institute of Psychiatry. He was with Sir David Napley and Professor Francis Camps a founder-member of British Academy of Forensic Sciences and became its eleventh President. He was knighted in 1961 and sworn of the Privy Council in 1974. He had married Anne Lush, a magistrate and marriage guidance counselor, in 1938.


‘Sir Roger Ormrod’, Times 9 January 1992

‘Sir Roger Ormrod, Honorary Fellow’, Psychiatric Bulletin 1993; 17: 127-8

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