Chitty, Joseph William (DNB01)

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CHITTY, Sir JOSEPH WILLIAM (1828-1899), judge, second son of Thomas Chitty [q. v.], special pleader, was born in Calthorpe Street, Gray's Inn Road, in 1828. He was educated at Eton and the university of Oxford, where he matriculated from Balliol College on 23 March 1847, graduated B.A. (first class in literæ humaniores) in 1851, was elected Vinerian scholar and fellow of Exeter in 1852, and proceeded M.A. in 1855. No less distinguished as an athlete than as a scholar, in three successive years (1850-2) he stroked the Oxford boat to victory, and twice he kept the Oxford wicket, being in the latter year (1849) captain of the team at Lord's. On 15 Nov. 1851 he was admitted student at Lincoln's Inn, where he was called to the bar on 30 April 1856, and elected bencher on 2 Nov. 1875, having taken silk in the preceding year, and treasurer in 1895. Chitty practised from the first exclusively in the court of chancery, in which his success was both speedy and sustained. On taking silk he confined himself to the rolls court, where he was soon the leader par excellence, and is said to have sometimes made as much as 13,000l. a year. More important was the discipline which during these years he received from so great a master of equity as Sir George Jessel, whose vast knowledge and keen dialectic rendered pleading before him a task of no ordinary difficulty. To Jessel Chitty was persona gratissima both in and out of court, and the partiality of the judge was based on respect for the powers of the advocate. The pace, however, at which business proceeded in the rolls court was unfavourable to the development of oratorical power; and in parliament, to which he was returned in the liberal interest for Oxford at the general election of April 1880, Chitty would probably never have made a considerable figure. On the detachment of the original jurisdiction from the mastership of the rolls, his parliamentary career was cut short by his elevation to the bench. He was gazetted justice of the high court, chancery division, on 6 Sept. 1881, thus virtually succeeding Jessel as judge of first instance, and was knighted on 7 Dec. following. As a judge he proved not unworthy of his great predecessor. During his long practice at the rolls court his mind had become a veritable storehouse of case law, and on the bench he showed that he possessed the firm grasp of principle and the fine faculty of discrimination, without which precedents are a hindrance rather than a help in the administration of justice. Appeals from his judgments were rare and seldom successful, and the work which he did in interpreting the Settled Land Act of 1882 (45 & 46 Vict., c. 38) and its amending acts is of permanent value. His chief fault was a propensity to digress into meandering discussion with counsel, which gained him the sobriquet of Mr. Justice Chatty.

His bonhomie was imperturbable, but none knew better how to expose the hollowness of an argument or rebuke excessive prolixity. Two sallies of Chitty's wit survive: an apt quotation, ‘fiat justitia, ruat cœlum,’ à propos of a sudden descent of plaster from the ceiling, and a tolerable epigram, ‘truth will sometimes leak out even through an affidavit.’ On circuit he displayed an unexpected familiarity with the common law, and a remarkable capacity for adapting himself to novel conditions.

On the retirement of Sir Edward Kay [q. v. Suppl.] Chitty was advanced (12 Jan. 1897) to the vacant seat among the lords-justices of appeal. He was also nominated judge under the Benefices Act of 1898. These appointments, however, came too late to enable him to add materially to his reputation. His constitution proved to be less vigorous than had been supposed ; and an attack of influenza terminated in his death at his residence, 33 Queen's Gate Gardens, Hyde Park, on 15 Feb. 1899. His remains were interred on 18 Feb. in Brookwood cemetery.

Chitty married, on 7 Sept. 1858, Clara Jessie, daughter of Lord-chief-baron Pollock [see Pollock, Sir Jonathan Frederick], by whom he left issue. For nearly a quarter of a century (1857-1881) Chitty acted as umpire at the inter-university boat race. He was a member, and for ten years (1867-77) major, of the Inns of Court volunteer corps. In later life he amused himself with carpentering and cabinet making. He was also a skilful executant on more than one musical instrument.

[Foster's Alumni Oxon. and Men at the Bar; Oxford Honours Register; Treherne's Record of the University Boat Race; Gent. Mag. 1858, ii. 414: Truth, 14 Sept. 1882; Pump Court, 1883; Vanity Fair, 28 March 1885, 10 July 1886; The World, 28 March 1888; Men and Women of the Time, 1899; Abbott and Campbell's Life and Letters of Jowett, i. 214 ; Sir Algernon West's Recollections, i. 51 ; Burke's Peerage, 1896; Times, 16, 17, and 20 Feb. 1899; Ann. Reg. 1899, ii. 133; Law Journ. 23 Feb. 1878, 16 Jan. 1897, 18 Feb. 1899 ; Law Times, 18 Feb. 1899; Solicitor's Journ. 18 Feb. 1899 ; Law Quart. Review, xv. 128; Law Mag. and Rev. 5th ser. xxv. 238.]

J. M. R.