Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Kennedy, William Rann
KENNEDY, Sir WILLIAM RANN (1846–1915), judge, the eldest son of the Rev. William James Kennedy, was born at 9 Campden Hill Villas, Kensington, 11 March 1846. His father, the fourth son of the Rev. Rann Kennedy [q.v.], was successively secretary to the National Society, H.M. inspector of schools, and vicar of Barnwood, Gloucestershire. His mother was Sarah Caroline Kennedy, who was her husband's cousin. Kennedy came of a family of distinguished classical scholars, three of his uncles, Benjamin Hall Kennedy [q.v.], Charles Rann Kennedy [q.v.], and George John Kennedy, having been senior classics and winners of the Porson prize, while his father was also Porson prizeman as well as Powis medallist. Kennedy himself was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge, and carried on the family tradition by gaining the Craven and Bell scholarships and the Powis and Browne medals, and by becoming senior classic in 1868. He was also president of the Cambridge Union Society. After taking his degree he taught the sixth form at Harrow for a year under Dr. Henry Montagu Butler [q.v.]. From 1868 to 1874 he was fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. From 1870 to 1871 he acted as private secretary to Mr. (afterwards Viscount) Goschen at the Poor Law Board. He was called to the bar by Lincoln's Inn in 1871 and read in the chambers of R. J. Williams. After call he joined the Northern circuit and settled as a ‘local’ barrister at Liverpool in 1873. He soon acquired a substantial practice, particularly in commercial and shipping cases. He moved to London in 1882 and in 1885 he took silk. In 1891 he published a work on the Law of Civil Salvage, which became the recognized authority on the subject. A keen liberal in politics, he made several unsuccessful attempts to enter the House of Commons, contesting Birkenhead in 1885 and 1886 and St. Helens in 1892. In 1892, at the unusually early age of forty-six, he was nominated by Lord Herschell to a judgeship in the Queen's bench division in succession to Mr. Justice Denman, and was knighted. As a judge of first instance he tried two cases which attracted popular interest, namely Allen v. Flood (1895), Flood v. Jackson (1898), a case on the liability of trade union officials, and Ashby's Cobham Brewery Co. (1906), a compensation case under the Licensing Act of 1904. From 1897 onwards Kennedy frequently sat in the ‘commercial court’ which had been set up in 1895.
On the appointment of Lord Cozens-Hardy [q.v.] to the mastership of the Rolls in 1907, Kennedy was appointed a lord justice of the Court of Appeal, and was sworn of the Privy Council. In the Court of Appeal he enhanced his judicial reputation, and on more than one occasion his dissenting judgments were upheld by the House of Lords. He died on 17 January 1915 at his London home, at the age of sixty-eight.
Kennedy's judgments were the fruit of great experience and learning, of an intellect which, though acute, was never the victim of its own subtlety, and of a complete mastery of lucid expression. His self-effacing nature kept him free from any trace of intellectual vanity or legal pedantry. His care and patience in weighing the merits of the weakest case were as unvarying as his courtesy and kindness to practitioners, especially to the less experienced among them, and he was regarded with affection as well as admiration by a wide circle of colleagues and friends. He was deeply interested in the study of international law, and long played a leading part in the work of the International Law Association, of which he was president from 1908 to 1910. He became a member of the Institut de Droit International in 1913. He kept up his classical scholarship to the end of his life, and published a translation of the Plutus of Aristophanes in 1912. He was elected an honorary fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge, in 1893, and a fellow of the British Academy in 1909.
Kennedy married in 1874 Cecilia Sarah, daughter of George Richmond [q.v.], R.A.. He had four sons and one daughter.
[The Times, 18 January 1915; Law Quarterly Review, April 1915; Journal of the Society of Comparative Legislation, July 1915; Proceedings of the British Academy, 1915–1916; the Law Reports; Reports of Commercial Cases; private information.]