Hong Kong's last non-Chinese chief judge dies in Britain

Denys Roberts had never forgotten Hong Kong since he retired, says his wife

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 May, 2013, 8:00am

Denys Roberts  1923-2013

An outstanding judge in the colonial era and the city's last non-Chinese chief justice, Sir Denys Roberts, passed away peacefully at his home in the United Kingdom on Sunday. He was 90.

His wife Lady Fiona Roberts told the South China Morning Post that the former Chief Justice "had never ever forgotten Hong Kong" since he retired and left the city in 1988. "He spent the golden years of his career in Hong Kong."

Sir Denys spent 26 years at the heart of Hong Kong's colonial administration, preceding Yang Ti Liang - then Sir T. L. Yang.

The family is arranging a funeral for next Tuesday.

His wife and their son Henry were at his bedside holding his hands when he passed away. Lady Fiona has described Sir Denys as a "romantic husband". They met in court when she represented the government in appeal cases in front of the Chief Justice. They were married in 1985 and their son Henry was born in Hong Kong in 1986.

One of their favourite haunts in Hong Kong before and after their marriage was Repulse Bay, Lady Fiona recalled.

He would take her there for candlelight dinners and would send her red roses. "He was a very generous and kind man, a wonderful husband and I could not have asked for better," she said.

News of Sir Denys's death was announced to the media yesterday by the family's close friend, Senior Counsel Cheng Huan who has known the couple for about three decades. Cheng described the former Chief Justice as a "gentleman of the first class".

"As a judge, he was very patient, and highly respected," Cheng said.

He told the Post that he visited the family almost every year and his last visit was early last year.

The health of the former chief justice had deteriorated for some time but he was still very sound in mind when Cheng last saw him.

Cheng said he was saddened by the loss of his long-time friend after he received the news in a phone call on Monday.

Sir Denys followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a barrister in England. He served as a prosecutor in Nyasaland -now Malawi - in Africa. In 1960 he was appointed Attorney-General of Gibraltar and he came to Hong Kong in 1962 as solicitor-general.

Sir Denys was appointed attorney-general four years later and became Colonial Secretary in 1973. The title was later changed to Chief Secretary.

He made the controversial move from the executive to the judiciary to become Chief Justice in 1979.

The judge was widely credited with expanding the judiciary during the first half of his tenure, establishing courts in Wan Chai, Sha Tin, Kwun Tong and Tuen Mun. But he was later accused of losing interest and was beset by scandals involving his judges.

He has a son and daughter from a previous marriage.