The Law's Hall of FameThis is where we have prepared short descriptions of the lives and times of the most famous (or infamous) people that have shaped our law or legal institutions. The persons selected are taken from all nations and eras and based only on merit. Most are lawyers but this is not a criteria for inclusion.
Nominations welcome! We're always looking for persons, dead or alive, that have made major contributions to, or have had a major impact on, the law. Please e-mail nominations to email@example.com.
ALFRED THE GREAT (849-899). Saxon king and 'wise lawgiver" who reigned in south-western England. Alfred was taught Latin (he visited Rome in 853 and 855) and implemented a number of important legal reforms which were later emulated in other parts of England. He decided to, in his own words, "gather the old laws of the Saxons together and commanded many of those to be written which our forefathers held, those which to me seemed good" thus putting an end to the discretionary and, at times, corrupt justice then meted out by local priests/judges. This first attempt at putting the law to paper in England was a very religious exercise and began with the Ten Commandments. He tempered the Biblical "eye for an eye" principles by proposing that monetary compensation could go to the victim. For example, a wound one inch long was compensated by a shilling; each broken tooth was worth six shillings and cutting off an ear, 20 shillings. The exception was treason, though, to which there was to be no mercy. Alfred also tried to stop the old ritual of blood feuds, endless cycles of vengeance between clans or persons. His laws required combatants to negotiate towards a truce for seven days before resorting to violence. Alfred introduced the notion that all crimes were an offence against the King himself, a tradition that continues today as crimes are prosecuted not by private citizens but by the government.
BARTON, Edmund (1849-1920). Australian statesman and judge. Elected to the New South Wales legislature in 1883 and later became the territory's attorney-general. In 1891, he took over the federation movement and presided over the constitutional conventions which concluded in 1901 when the British Parliament in London created the Commonwealth of Australia. Barton was asked to be the new nation's first prime minister. Two years later, Barton resigned his political duties and joined the newly formed High Court of Australia. From 1903, to 1906, the High Court had a bench of only three members; Barton being joined by two federalist colleagues: the Chief Justice, Sir Samuel Griffith, former premier and former Chief Justice of Queensland and Richard Edward O'Connor, a former Minister of Justice and Solicitor-General of New South Wales and the first Leader of the Government in the Senate. Barton sat on the High Court until his death in 1920 at the age of 70.
BECCARIA, Cesare Bonesana (1738-1794). Italian jurist. Wrote Dei deliti e delle pene (Essay on Crimes and Punishments) in (1764) which was translated and brought to light the barbarous nature of many punishments especially torture. His main theory was that punishment for crime should not exceed what was necessary to maintain public order. He opposed capital punishment, torture and secret trials and he suggested hard labor or incarceration for persons convicted of murder. The English justice system was greatly influenced by Dei deliti e delle pene.
BENTHAM, Jeremy (1748-1832). English legal reformer. Son of a lawyer, Bentham got his law degree from Oxford but never practiced. This English son of a lawyer urged the implementation of Beccaria's ideas in England where, in 1780, 350 different offences incurred the capital punishment. He published Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation in 1789 which introduced the principles of utilitarianism in England (the belief that the aim of the individual and the legislator in the conduct of society should be to achieve the greatest happiness for the greatest number). Amongst his popular ideas was a complete reform of the British criminal laws including a large reduction of crimes which were punished by capital punishment. His theories were so popular that he was made a citizen of France in 1792. When he died, his head was cut off and his body embalmed, affixed with a wax replica of his head and dressed. It is still preserved in that condition at University College in London.
BLACKSTONE, William (1723-1780). His parents died when he was young but that never stopped this great English lawyer from sharing the great gift of legal knowledge, then selfishly-held by legal professionals. His Commentaries on the Law of England became an important foundation of American law and even in England, the publication far exceeded the man himself. Indeed, Blackstone fancied himself a legal academic and in spite of his fame amongst the people, chased his doctorate, professorship, and then a seat on the bench. He even became a member of the English Parliament but later declined an invitation to become England's Solicitor-General. It was shortly thereafter that he acceded to the bench. Stodgy legal academics jealously denounced his work but to no avail. To the general populace, he was a real hero. While legal purists chastised his simplistic version of the common law, English people embraced his plain language, plain truth version of the hithertofore esoteric law of the land.
BONAPARTE, Napoleon (1769-1821). French Emperor and codifier of French law. By 1799, Napoleon ruled France and proposed a constitution which was widely endorsed by the French populace in a referendum taken in February 1800. Napoleon reformed the French post-revolution justice system, appointing rather then electing judges and promoting their credibility and independence by making their tenure permanent. The other big reform was the publication of the Civil Code of French law, which became law on March 21, 1804. Work on the Code had actually been underway for 14 years but the Code was quickly dubbed the Code Napoléon. Napoleon was obviously proud of it. "My code is the sheet anchor which will save France," he once said. "And it will entitle me to the benedictions of posterity." The Code brought into one comprehensive national legal code most of the gains of the Revolution such as equality before the law, individual liberty and freedoms and the lay character of the government. Besides France, the Code became the model for French colonial legal systems including Louisiana and Quebec.
BRACTON, Henry de, (1215-1268). Priest and judge in medieval England. Bracton was the first judge to research, collect and record over 2,000 decisions of his court in a casebook (called the "Note Book"), thus publishing the world's first "law report." This work pioneered the use of precedents and the stare decisis rule. More importantly, law reports provide publicity to the rules of law laid down by the courts and act as a control over arbitrary decisions. Bracton's example was forever thereafter followed in England, in a historical publication called the "Year Books" which were published from 1291 to 1535. His case book was only discovered twenty years after his death. He also wrote "On The Laws And Customs of England", which was then one of the first books on the common law.
CICERO, Marco Tullius (106 -43 BC). Roman orator, lawyer, politician and philosopher. Studied jurisprudence, rhetoric and philosophy and he began taking part in legal cases. Became an independent-thinking member of the Roman Senate and paid for it by exile. During his exile and upon his return, he published works that still shape justice. Survived many power struggles including several triumvirates and the reign of Casear (he actually witnessed the murder of Caesar). By Antony's orders Herennius cut off his head and his hands." Antony then had Cicero's head and hands nailed to the speaker's podium in the Senate as a warning to others. Murdered December 7, 43 BC when while trying to flee, his throat was cut, and his head and his hands cut off. The Roman leaders then had Cicero's head and hands nailed to the speaker's podium in the Senate as a warning to others. Arguably, his greatest influence came in his suppoprt of the ideals of stoicism, a basis of contemporary legal systems; that human beings were all meant to follow natural law, which arises from reason. Stoicism, according to Cicero, also held that natural law is the source of all properly made human laws and communities. Because human beings share reason and the natural law, humanity as a whole can be thought of as a kind of community, and because each of us is part of a group of human beings with shared human laws, each of us is also part of a political community. This being the case, we have duties to each of these communities.
COKE, Edward (Sir; Lord), 1552-1634. Born in Norfolk, England, and educated at Cambridge University. Called to the bar in 1578; became a member of Parliament in 1589 and subsequently held the positions of Solicitor-General, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Attorney-General. Appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas in 1606, and Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench in 1616. A champion of the common law, he was removed from office for resisting the arbitrary use of royal power. Author of a highly respected series of law reports (Coke's Reports), and the landmark Institutes of the Laws of England (1628-44) - the greatest work of English jurisprudence until Blackstone's Commentaries.
DARROW, Charles (1857-1938). Perhaps the most famous of all American lawyers. Based in Chicago, Darrow made a name for himself by defending labor leaders in several high profile cases. Most of the cases became pivotal in the development of American labor or criminal law. This was an era when labor legislation and the right to unionize was in its infancy and Darrow's staunch defense of union leaders gave the movement needed credibility. Darrow often took up unpopular causes, defending against sedition charges after World War I, defending a black family from murder charges in Detroit; defending two men suspected of the murder of a 14-year old boy; and, in perhaps his most famous case, defending teacher John Scopes who was accused of breaking a state law by presenting Darwin's theories of evolution to high school students. Darrow was a published author and public speaker, promoting his personal convictions including freedom of expression and of association and opposition to capital punishment.
DENNING, Alfred Thompson, also known as "Lord Denning" (1899). British judge. Lawyer since 1923 and a judge since 1944. Gained prominence in appointed to investigate a sex scandal that rocked the British government in the early 60s. Endeared himself to the public by the simplicity of his legal decisions. Although many of his decisions as a judge were controversial, he is considered to be one of the most influential judges in the history of English common law, particularly in the area of contract law.
DICKENS, Charles, 1812-1870. Famous British author including such masterpieces as David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, The Pickwick Papers, A Tale of Two Cities, The Bleak House and Great Expectations. His father was imprisoned for an unpaid debt causing a 12-year old Dickens to be forced from school and into a factory to work. At the age of 15, he became a clerk in a law office and began to report on law cases and the debates of Parliament. The Pickwick Papers (1836) was famously successful and thrust him in the limelight. Dickens used his money and fame to press for social changes to the real life misery of the London poor. He helped to establish a home for reformed prostitutes, argued for cleaning of the slums of London, education reform and improved sanitary controls. His bleak portrayal of a corrupt justice system in the book Bleak House (1853) has been called Dickens's masterpiece. Dickens visited Canada and the USA in 1842, causing a sensation.
DIXON, Owen, 1886-1972. Appointed to the High Court of Australia in 1929, and Chief Justice of Australia 1952-1964. In 1950, he was appointed United Nations mediator in a border dispute between India and Pakistan. On his retirement, the Australian Prime Minister (Sir Robert Menzies) remarked: "I have heard at least two Lord Chancellors [of England] give it as their opinion that your Honour was the greatest judicial lawyer in the English-speaking world, and I have heard that view confirmed by the most brilliant and celebrated occupant of the Supreme Court bench in Washington."
DRACO, 620 BC. This Greek citizen was chosen to write a code of law for Athens (Greece). The penalty for many offences was death; so severe, that the word "draconian" comes from his name and has come to mean, in the English language, an unreasonably harsh law. His laws were the first written laws of Greece. These laws introduced the state's exclusive role in punishing persons accused of crime, instead of relying on the bloody system of private justice. The citizens adored Draco and upon entering an auditorium one day to attend a reception in his honor, the citizens of Athens showered him with their hats and cloaks as was their customary way to show appreciation. By the time they dug him out from under the clothing, he had been smothered to death.
EDWARD I (1239-1307). Nicknamed the "English Justinian." King Edward institutionalized the practice of regularly summoning public assemblies of English nobility and allowing this assembly to decide important matters of state including the law. He used the body to promulgate many laws from which some of the most important legal procedures had their origin such as the quo warranto remedy. These assemblies were the forerunners of the modern parliaments or legislatures. Edward I also codified, by the Statute of Winchester as it became known, a police system to protect public order. In 1291, he instituted a system of lawyer certification and "and that those so chosen should follow the Court and take part in its business and no others." Representation of others in court has been the exclusive and statutory privilege of certified lawyers ever since, in most countries in the world.
GAUTAMA, Siddhartha (Buddha), Indian philosopher (560 BC - 480 BC). He established a social doctrine called The Four Noble Truths which basically suggested that desire is the cause of all suffering and conquering desire would end suffering. The philosophy of Buddhism has ben a tremendous influence on the development of Asiatic law.
GRIFFITH, Samuel Walker, 1845-1920. Premier of the Colony of Queensland, then Chief Justice of Queensland (1897-1903) and first Chief Justice of Australia (1903-1918). He was Vice-President of the Federal Constitutional Convention of 1891 and chairman of its drafting committee. As such, he contributed more to the drafting of the Australian Constitution than any other single individual. His drafting skills live on in other important statutes, including the Queensland Criminal Code (and those of Western Australia and the Northern Territory, which are largely based on the Queensland model), and the Rules of the High Court of Australia.
JEFFERSON, Thomas , 1743-1826. American president and author of theDeclaration of American Independence. Jefferson was born in Virginia and became a lawyer. Turning his attention to politics, Jefferson penned a series of articles which were critical of the authority of the British King over his fellow American citizens. "The God who gave us life," he wrote, "gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force (the British) may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." in 1776, he was appointed to chair a group of five which drafted the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson then returned to govern the new state of Virginia where he introduced a series of legal reforms. Many of his reforms were ahead of his time such as proposing a tax-based free system of education and public libraries. His bill to allow complete religious freedom met with much resistance but finally passed. "All men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions on matters of religion," he argued. "The same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." He was elected to the American Congress. Amongst his achievements was a bill which rejected the English Pound as currency and replaced it with an American dollar. He became President in 1801 and oversaw the purchase of the 800,00-square mile Louisiana Territory from France in 1803 for $15-million. "A little rebellion now and then is a good thing," he once said. "As necessary in the political world as storms in the physical."
JUSTINIAN, 482-565. This Emperor of Byzantine is best remembered for his codification of Roman Law in a series of books called Corpus Juris Civilis. His collection served as an important basis for law in contemporary society, and was inspired by logic-based Greek legal principles. Many legal maxims still in use today are derived from Justinian's code. His work inspired the modern concept and, indeed, the very spelling of "justice". His code survived as the many parts of Germany until 1900 and important traces of it can be found in the law of Italy, Scotland, South Africa and Quebec. Roman law formed the base of civil law, one of the two main legal systems to govern modern society in the Western civilization (the other being English common law). A quote: "The things which are common to all (and not capable of being owned) are: the air, running water, the sea and the seashores."
LINCOLN, Abraham, 1809-1865. American president during the American Civil War and chief architect of the demise of the Confederate forces and slavery. Lincoln became a lawyer and was a member of the Illinois legislature for eight years and represented clients throughout his state with a zeal that caused his law partner to say of him: "His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest." Even as early as 1854, he had publicly declared that slavery should be abolished. Lincoln became President in 1961and in 1863 he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared slaves in the Confederacy free. He was an inspirational speaker and writer. Of the dead during the civil war he said at Gettysburg that: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from this earth." Re-elected in 1864, with the end of the Civil War soon at hand, Lincoln said: "with malice towards none; with charity towards all; with firmness in the light, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds." He was assassinated on April 14, 1865.
MACDONALD, John A., (1815-91). Canada's first prime minister and architect of the Canadian constitution, the British North America Act. Born in Glasgow, Scotland, Macdonald moved to Canada while still a child. He practiced law in the British colony of Upper Canada and later became a member of that colony's parliament and the united parliament with Lower Canada (Quebec). His biggest achievement was guiding the constitutional conferences which led to the 1867 BNA Act, joining Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as the confederation of Canada. Queen Victoria rewarded him for his efforts by appointing him as the country's first prime minister, a position that Macdonald would win from the electorate many times thereafter. Macdonald led the country through many difficult periods including Fenian attacks through the USA and the union of the colonies of Prince Edward Island, British Columbia and Manitoba with Canada. Several of his legal reform measures are documented in Canadian Law: A History.
MARSHALL, Thurgood, 1908-1993. Tenacious human rights advocate. Led the most important civil rights cases as senior lawyer for the American National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which he worked for twenty years, including monumental and high profile legal battles heard before the Supreme Court, such as the desegregation of the state-run school systems. President John F. Kennedy appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1962. In 1967, he was elevated to the Supreme Court. During his twenty-five year tenure on the highest court in the USA, Marshall's decisions echoed his principals of anti-discrimination and equality of all citizens, of without racial distinction.
MUHAMMAD, 570-632, Islamic prophet. Muhammad preached a new, single-God religion to the mostly pagan Arabs. He began gaining converts and by 630, he had a huge following. He managed to finalize his theories into a book called the Koran, which is to followers of Islam what the Bible is to Christians. After his death, his disciples waged a war of conquest that soon spanned from Spain, Northern Africa and far east. The conquests of his spiritual descendants installed Islamic law, as it was interpreted from the Koran, as the law of hundreds of million of people, even to this day. Islamic law is probably best known for deterrent punishment, which is the basis of the Islamic criminal system and the fact that there is no separation of church and state. The religion of Islam and the government are one. Islamic law is controlled, ruled and regulated by the Islamic religion. Islamic law purports to regulate all public and private behavior including personal hygiene, diet, sexual conduct, and child rearing. Islamic law now prevails in countries all over the middle east and elsewhere covering twenty per cent of the world's population.
RUSH, Benjamin, 1746-1813. American medical doctor. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, Dr. Rush pressed for an end to public executions in the United States. Founded the Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, his new ideas borrowed heavily on Beccaria and Bentham and included incarceration instead of capital punishment. He is known as the first prominent American to call for the end of capital punishment. His efforts led to Pennsylvania to become one of the first states in the world for which only premeditated murder was met with capital punishment (other states followed soon after).
SOLON, 630 BC to 560 BC. Greek (Athens) poet and statesman. To avoid a revolution, he was chosen by his peers to address serious difficulties which had developed amongst the classes of ancient Athens and given full authority for reforming Athenian law. He reformed Draco's laws which provided for death for even the most trivial of crimes. He canceled all debts and prohibited the practice whereby the penalty for defaulting on a loan was slavery of the borrower. He refused to redistribute the land as the poorest group was demanding. His laws facilitated the circulation of currency (coins). Most importantly, he abolished the system of government which allowed only those born into certain families to govern, replacing it with an annual assembly at which all male citizens of Athens were allowed one vote. A Council of Four Hundred was established to administer the annual assembly. His laws were inscribed on wooden tablets and circulated throughout Athens for all to see.
TORRENS, Robert, 1814-1884. Australian and British statesman. Worked in the customs office in London, moving to Adelaide, Australia in 1840. By 1853, he had been elected to the Legislative Council of South Australia, becoming premier in 1858. Torrens invented a new land registration system, which greatly simplified the English formalities of land conveyance. His method consolidated all land titles in a central office, the records of which were final. His system was adopted all over Australia and in several Canadian provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia. Torrens eventually returned to England where he was elected to the British House of Commons in 1868.Lloyd Duhaime wishes to thank Anthony J H Morris QC, Brisbane, Australia for the additions (including text) of Sir Owen Dixon and Sir Samuel Walker Griffiths and Sir Edward Coke. Also, thanks to Edward Clayton of Central Michigan University for his reasearch re Cicero.