Sir John Leonard, the high court judge who presided over the controversial Ealing vicarage rape case, has died at the age of 77.

He provoked outrage in 1987 for handing out sentences which were widely criticised for being too lenient. Indirectly it led to the introduction of the system which now allows the crown to appeal against sentences which it believes are insufficient.

The notorious case involved Jill Saward, who was subjected to a dreadful and degrading sexual assault while her father, the Rev Michael Saward, lay with his skull fractured. Miss Saward's boyfriend was also beaten up when three men broke into the vicarage in west London.

At the end of the Old Bailey case, Leonard told Martin McCall and Christopher Byrne: ''Because I have been told the trauma suffered by the victim was not so great I shall take a lenient course with you.

McCall was jailed for just 10 years: five for the rape and five for burglary. Byrne got three years for the rape and five for burglary.

When Robert Horscroft, the ringleader who had taken no part in the rape, received 14 years for burglary and assault, the judge was condemned for putting a greater value on property than on the person. When he retired from the legal profession in November 1993, Sir John made a public apology to Jill Saward.

Before his elevation to the bench, Leonard had earned a considerable reputation as a skilled barrister usually acting for the prosection. In one of his first cases acting for the director of public prosecutions he was a junior in the trial of the insurance swindler Emil Savundra.

He was twice involved in prosecuting members of the notorious Kray family for murder. In 1968 he was part of the team in the trial of all three Kray brothers for the shooting of Frank Mitchell. The following year Leonard prosecuted the Kray twins, Ronnie and Reggie, for the murder of Jack ''The Hat'' McVitie.

In one notable appearance for the defence, he represented Patrick Armstrong, one of the Guildford Four, convicted of bombing the Horse and Groom public house, Guildford, and the King's Arms, Woolwich. He continued to act for Armstrong during his appeals, but had long since gone on to the bench by the time the convictions were quashed in 1989.

He retired in 1993 and three years later his wife died as the result of a freak accident while holidaying in Cyprus.

She was injured when she was hit by a rock that had shattered in a lightning storm. The couple had been visiting the remains of a castle in northern Cyprus when she was knocked unconscious by the rock fragment which caused a hairline fracture in a vertebra in the middle of her back. It meant she had to lie still for a week afterwards.

Lady Leonard, who was known to her family as ''Dinkie'', appeared to be making a good recovery after being flown to the East Surrey Hospital in Redhill. But on the day she was due to return home to Merstham, Surrey, she suffered a fatal pulmonary embolism because of her immobility.

Sir John Leonard, barrister and judge; born April 28 1926, died August 10, 2002.