Obituary: Ronald Angus Ropner Stroyan QC

Lawyer who displayed a light touch in court and showed bravery on the field of battle. Picture: Contributed
Lawyer who displayed a light touch in court and showed bravery on the field of battle. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 27 November, 1924, in Surrey. Died: 9 March, 2016, in Stirlingshire, aged 91.

His Honour Judge Angus Stroyan was a distinguished member of bench and bar, a man once described by a future Lord Chief Justice as having the finest all-round legal mind he knew.

It was an intellect attuned to move with ease from examining the finest points of criminal law in the House of Lords to advising newspapers on libel, holding the Privy Council’s attention during in an apparently hopeless contract case with his analogy of playing a salmon on the Tay or slapping down an over-exuberant accused after an acquittal – he reportedly jailed the alleged thief for two days after he threw up his arms triumphantly on being cleared, an act Stroyan deemed an insolent contempt of court.

His bark, though, was feared more than his bite and his reputation for constancy and fairness led to him being appointed the first Honorary Recorder of Newcastle Upon Tyne. Unafraid to hold his own in any courtroom, he also displayed courage in the field of conflict, serving with the Black Watch during the crossing of the Rhine in the Second World War and being Mentioned in Dispatches for gallantry in Palestine with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Ronald Angus Ropner Stroyan, whose family owned the Boreland Estate, near Killin, was born in Surrey while his father Ronald Stroyan was working in London in the City.

The youngster spent his childhood in Surrey and also in Doune with his paternal grandparents at Lanrick Castle and in Cleveland with his maternal grandparents Sir John and Lady Ropner of Sketterskelfe.

Educated at Harrow, he joined the Black Watch immediately after leaving school in 1943 when the Second World War was at its height. He was initially posted to Perth Barracks and was commissioned in January 1944.

He was serving with the Regiment’s 5th Battalion on 23 March 1945 when they crossed the Rhine in Operation Plunder, as part of the 51st Highland Division. It had been an appallingly cold winter in mainland Europe and the 1st, 5th and 7th Battalions had already all been employed in the snow and sub-zero temperatures of the Ardennes to counter the last great German offensive of the war, known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Then in the March, after the Black Watch had been addressed by General Montgomery ahead of Operation Plunder, the Division’s 153 Brigade with the 5th Battalion made it across the Rhine, immediately west of Rees. The 5th faced fierce battles during the capture of the town, engaging in house-to-house combat, and also took Esserden. By this time German resistance was crumbling.

The Allies declared Victory in Europe in May and the following month Captain Stroyan was pictured in more relaxed mode, in a Bren gun carrier, sharing a light-hearted moment with colleagues at the 5th Battalion Highland Games in Steyerberg.

Still only 20 when the war ended, he went on to serve with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in Palestine, then a British Mandate and the scene of regular terror attacks as violence erupted not only between Jewish and Arab factions but also against the British army. His coming of age was marked in one newspaper with a report noting that, while home on leave from the Middle East, he had been presented with an inscribed silver salver by the tenants and staff of Boreland.

During his time in Palestine the young officer was Mentioned in Dispatches for brave and distinguished service and completed his regular army duties in 1947 but was a member of the Territorial Army until 1951.

On his return to the UK he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge to read law and was called to the bar of the Inner Temple in 1950.

For the next two decades or so he built up a practice at the bar and commanded wide respect at the highest levels, including that of one fellow member of chambers, who had great admiration for his legal brain, and who went on to become the Lord Chief Justice, then the second-highest legal position in England and Wales.

In the courtroom Stroyan displayed his superior legal mind with determined efficiency, on one occasion, against the author of what was then the practitioner’s standard work on bankruptcy, he persuaded the Court of Appeal that his opponent and his book were wrong in principle on the point at issue.

Appointed deputy chairman of the court of Quarter Sessions for the North Riding of Yorkshire in 1962, then chairman from 1970-71, he took silk in 1972 and was appointed a circuit judge three years later. He went on to become one of the first senior circuit judges to sit in the Court of Appeal (Criminal division).

Once again he held his own, threatening in one instance to breach the convention of unanimity by delivering a dissenting judgment to uphold a stiff, exemplary sentence of a fellow trial judge. The majority capitulated and he delivered the “unanimous” judgment.

An unmistakable and unforgettable judge, though firm, he was not without a lighter touch on the bench. After listening to a long defence plea for leniency and being implored to measure the sentence in months rather than years, he is said to have replied: “Oh, very well, you will go to prison for 60 months.”

Out of court he served for several years on the Bar Council, chairing its Professional Conduct Committee with his customary courtesy, fairness and firmness while always appreciative of the virtue of brevity, and setting and upholding standards of professional behaviour.

After a judicial career principally in the criminal field, sitting on occasion in the High Court, he retired in 1995 and subsequently served for six years on the Parole Board where his common sense and humanity provided reliable touchstones.

He spent his retirement at his beloved Boreland, Glen Lochay near Killin, where he chaired the West Rannoch Deer Management Group for many years, and where he was able to enjoy the country life, his garden and his farm for the next two decades.

Angus Stroyan was married firstly in 1952 to Elisabeth Anna Grant of Rothiemurchus (marriage dissolved 1964) and secondly in 1967 to Jill Johnston (nee Marshall). He is survived by his wife Jill, one son and two daughters by his first marriage and one son, two stepsons and two stepdaughters by his second.