The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
20 December 1999
Lord Denning may be the lawyer of the century, feted for his legal accomplishments and influence on the profession, but the last 1,000 years also saw other famous, infamous and anonymous lawyers who played their part in shaping the legal millennium.
Mohandas "Mahatma" Ghandi (1869-1948)
Ghandi started as lawyer but moved into politics, becoming the father of a new nation. He was born in 1869 in Poorbandar, married at 13, and was sent to London to study law at the Inner Temple. He practised law in South Africa where he began a non-violent career opposing discrimination. Ghandi fought for a free India before his assassination in 1948.
Nelson Mandela (born 1918)
Ghandi's counterpart practised as a lawyer in South Africa before starting a 20-year campaign against apartheid. He spent many years in prison before being released, winning the Nobel Peace prize and being elected president of the new, free South Africa.
Sidney Kentridge QC (born 1922)
Mandela's lawyer, Sidney Kentridge QC, also enters The Lawyer's millennial hall of fame. Kentridge has been lead defence lawyer in many South African political cases, including the Steve Biko inquest. He was admitted to the English bar in 1977 and became a QC seven years later.
Sir Nicholas Bacon (1510-1579)
Like Ghandi and Mandela, Sir Nicholas Bacon achieved a profile by taking an ideological stand. The protestant lawyer lost his high legal office under Mary I and became a fierce enemy of Mary Queen of Scots under Elizabeth I.
Francis Bacon, (1561-1626)
Sir Nicholas Bacon's son Francis Bacon, Viscount of St Albans, held a string of senior legal positions, including that of Lord Chancellor, before being hit by a bribery scandal which took him on a downward spiral of fines, imprisonment and banishment from court. He died in London, deeply in debt, without returning to public office. In spite of this sad end, he influenced the development of scientific investigation by stressing the importance of inductive methodology.
Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634)
In contrast, common law supremo Sir Edward Coke's portrait in the millennium corridor is due to his shaping of the legal landscape. His defence of common law had a deep influence on the development of English law and constitution. Early cases include Shelly, a landmark in land law. Coke rivalled and beat Francis Bacon for the attorney general post in 1594. He was known for his brutal methods and his prosecutions included that of Guy Fawkes. He was the first Lord Chief Justice of England, famously clashed with James I, and was dismissed for ignoring a royal injunction.
Lord Mansfield (1705-1793)
Lord Mansfield was another early lawyer who shaped the law. His decision in the Somersett case that a slave could not be forcibly removed from the UK to a colony, was a first step towards the abolition of slavery. But he is best known for his role in reforming commercial law, bringing it within the remit of common law and equity to free it from feudalism. He is also credited with the invention of marine insurance jurisprudence.
Baron George Jeffries (1648-89)
Baron George Jeffries, aka Judge Jeffries, is another notorious lawyer. He is one in a long list of lawyers who met with a bloody end. Jeffries was active in the popish plot prosecutions and his reputation was founded on his no-holds-barred pro-crown stance. He proved himself to be a particularly willing tool of the state when he tried the followers of Monmouth, earning his court the nickname "the Bloody Assizes". He was made Lord Chancellor under James II and died in the Tower upon James' flight.
Sir Thomas More (1478-1535)
Another lawyer who met a bitter end, More was convicted of treason and beheaded for his stand against Henry VIII. He resigned as Lord Chancellor in opposition to Henry VIII's break with Catholicism and refused to condone the king's divorce from Catherine of Aragon and recognise the king as head of the English church.
Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658)
As the century moved on, the fate of former lawyers got ever more gory. Cromwell studied law at Lincoln's Inn before becoming a signatory of Charles I's death warrant in 1649. After Charles' execution and abolition of the monarchy, Cromwell turned down the crown and dissolved parliament. He provided judicial administration in Scotland and gave Ireland parliamentary representation, ending wars with Portugal and Holland, defeating the Spanish and taking Dunkirk. In spite of these achievements, he was not to rest in peace after his death. He was convicted of treason and his body was dug up and hung from the gallows.
Archbishop Simon of Sudbury (died 1381)
Cromwell's macabre demise was by no means a first for lawyers. Archbishop Simon, who was chancellor at the time of the peasants' poll tax revolt in the 14th century, was beheaded at the Tower for his efforts.
Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832)
Like Cromwell, it appears the fate of more modern lawyers has been not to rest easily in their grave. Jeremy Bentham was admitted to Lincoln's Inn at the tender age of 19. He wrote prolifically on penal and social reform, economics and politics. He founded University College, London where his stuffed body remains and his ghost is rumoured to stalk the corridors.
Abraham Lincoln (1861-65)
Lincoln kept the states united during the American Civil War and brought about the emancipation of slaves. He was a small-time prairie lawyer who became a top lawyer in Illinois before becoming the 16th US president.
Earl Warren (1891-1974)
Warren presided over the US Supreme Court's decision in Brown v Board of Education, Topeka, which ruled against segregation in the southern states.
Bill Clinton (born 1946)
A string of US presidents have a legal background, including current president Bill Clinton.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)
Thomas Jefferson also started out as a lawyer before becoming the third US president.
Richard Nixon (1913-94)
Nixon turned his back on the law to become president but was forced to resign in August 1974 under threat of impeachment.
Robert Kennedy (1925-1968)
Robert Kennedy held the position of attorney general but was assassinated during his campaign for presidential nomination.
David Lloyd George (1863-1945)
Former UK Prime Ministers with a legal background include the Welsh solicitor, who was instrumental in removing the House of Lord's power of veto. His "people's budget" was rejected by the House of Lords, leading to a constitutional crisis which brought about the Parliament Act of 1911. Lloyd George's downfall came as a result of his negotiations with Sinn Fein, which conceded the Irish Free State in 1921.
Margaret Thatcher (born 1925)
Margaret Thatcher began her career as a chemist, then studied law and was called to the bar in 1954 before revolutionising the British political landscape before her departure in 1990.
Fidel Castro (born 1927)
One of the most colourful characters to emerge from the sober law library is Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro. After studying law in Havana, Castro staged an uprising and was forced to flee to the US following a period of imprisonment. He later became president and, despite the best efforts of the CIA, remains so today.
Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Another lawyer behind communism is its father, Karl Marx, who studied law and philosophy at Bonn University before going on to pen anticapitalist tomes The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital.
Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543)
Other unlikely early lawyers include Nicolas Copernicus, the founder of modern astronomy and a student of canon law in Bologna, who challenged the established 16th century thought which placed the planet at the centre of the universe.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez (born 1928)
On the creative side, Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez studied law before becoming a journalist and novelist, winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1982.
He is joined by literary lawyer Franz Kafka (1883-1924), and Russian expressionist artist Vasili Kandinski (1866-1944), who was a law student before becoming pioneer of the abstract image in art.