Mr R.W.M. Dias Obituary

Unpublished obituary compiled by Dr Neil Jones, Faculty of Law, University of Cambridge, March 2010

Reproduced with his permission

R W M (Mickey) Dias, QC (Hon.), author of leading works on jurisprudence and the law of tort, whose clear teaching – rigorous yet humane – inspired generations of Cambridge law undergraduates, and who made an outstanding contribution to the law in later the twentieth century, died on 17 November 2009 aged 88.

Spending most of his career as a fellow of Magdalene College, and university lecturer in law at Cambridge, Mickey Dias founded modern legal study at Magdalene, developing numbers, reputation and spirit among the college's lawyers, whom he taught for over forty years. His Magdalene pupils included a remarkable proportion of the senior judiciary, among them Lord Judge, Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Sir Andrew Morritt, Chancellor of the High Court, and His Excellency Judge Sir Christopher Greenwood of the International Court of Justice.

His teaching and research were in Roman law, jurisprudence, and the law of tort. His textbook on jurisprudence reached its fifth edition in 1985. He was the author, with Basil Markesinis, of Tort Law and The English Law of Torts: a comparative introduction, and general editor of the leading practitioners’ work Clerk and Lindsell on Torts, with particular responsibility for the fine chapters on negligence, which were much cited in the superior courts.

Mickey Dias was born in Colombo, Ceylon, on 3 March 1921, into the leading Sinhalese family of Dias Bandaranaike. His grandfather, Felix Reginald Dias Bandaranaike, the first Asian admitted at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, was a justice of the Supreme Court of Ceylon, and his father, also educated at Trinity Hall, a Ceylonese district judge.

After briefly attending the Ceylon Law College, Mickey Dias went up to Trinity Hall on the eve of the second world war, studying Roman law with the Regius Professor, W.W. Buckland, then in his eighties, and winning the George Long Prize for Roman Law. He took a starred first class in Part II of the Law Tripos 1942, and another in the LLB in 1943, and gained wartime tennis blues in all four years, simultaneously serving in the Home Guard (about which he wrote a most amusing memoir). He then volunteered for active service, as a rear gunner in Leigh Light anti-submarine aircraft of Coastal Command, stationed in Scotland (whence he was involved in the search for the Tirpitz), studying simultaneously for his Bar exams, and being called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1945.

Demobilised in 1946, he returned to Cambridge to supervise in law, and in 1949 was appointed to a lectureship at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth. He returned to Cambridge in 1951 as a university lecturer in law, and was elected a fellow of Magdalene College – the college's first law fellow – in 1955. He spent the rest of his career at Magdalene, serving as President 1988-91.

Magdalene, and its legal studies, was at the centre of his work: there was a tradition to be created, a subject to be established in the college. An early innovation was the college law society, alongside a mooting competition in which undergraduates argued before a mock appellate court, and an annual dinner held, at his own expense, each May on the very eve of examinations, to break the tension. There was the daily round of detailed essay marking and supervising, the latter spiced by characteristically macabre biological specimens in jars in his college rooms, and a bear-skin rug into the mouth of which college buttery staff were wont affectionately to insert pieces of fruit. And there were the law undergraduates themselves, who came to Magdalene in increasing numbers, inspirationally taught, treated as individuals, and invited home for Sunday lunch, a Sri Lankan curry, served on nineteenth-century Trinity Hall plates, which in latter years was named ‘Chicken Elizabeth’ in honour of Elizabeth Dyce, an undergraduate who had surreptitiously won it a prize in a national recipe competition.

In the university he served as Secretary of the Faculty Board of Law 1959-62, as a member of the General Board and the Council of the Senate, and as Senior Proctor 1987-88. In 1947 he married Norah Hunter Crabb, whom he had met at the end of the war while she was serving in the WAAF. Her death in an air crash while on holiday in Africa in 1980 was a defining moment: she had been a lodestar of his life, and his last three decades were decades of loss, which he bore with courage, and with a conviction of the continuity of our spiritual existence after death and of Norah's presence with him.

He was self-deprecatingly reticent about his achievements, wearing neither his war-service medals, nor his Hawks’ Club tie. But the affection in which he was held by generations of his pupils was manifested at an eightieth birthday dinner in the Inner Temple – of which he had been elected a honorary bencher in 1992 – attended by over two hundred, among them six lords justices of appeal.

He is survived by his daughters, Alison and Julia, the former a scientist by training and now a professional musician, the latter a practising QC who followed him as the fourth generation of the family to read law at Trinity Hall, and two grandchildren, Isabelle and James.