Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turner, George James

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TURNER, Sir GEORGE JAMES (1798–1867), lord justice of appeal in chancery, born at Yarmouth on 5 Feb. 1798, came of an old Norfolk family, and was the youngest of eight sons of Richard Turner, for many years incumbent of Great Yarmouth. William Turner (1792–1867) [q. v.] was his elder brother. George was educated at the Charterhouse and afterwards at Pembroke College, Cambridge, of which college his uncle, Joseph Turner, formerly tutor of William Pitt, and afterwards dean of Norwich, was master at the time. He graduated B.A. as ninth wrangler in 1819, was afterwards elected a fellow, and proceeded M.A. in 1822. He was called to the bar by the society of Lincoln's Inn in 1821. In 1832 he edited a volume of chancery reports dealing with cases between 1822 and 1824 in conjunction with James Russell (1790–1861) [q. v.], and, after acquiring an extensive practice as a junior counsel, he was made a queen's counsel in 1840. In 1847 he was elected, in the conservative interest, M.P. for Coventry, and represented that borough until his promotion to the bench in April 1851. Turner was ordinarily content to devote his attention as a legislator to professional subjects. He introduced and carried the useful measure known as ‘Turner's Act,’ of which the object was to simplify and improve certain parts of the then cumbrous machinery of the court of chancery.

In April 1851 Turner was appointed a vice-chancellor, and received the customary knighthood. In the same year he was sworn a member of the privy council. In 1852 he did valuable work as a reformer of legal procedure in the character of a prominent member of the chancery commission which effected what were then regarded as far-reaching and drastic improvements in the practice of the court of chancery. Although much of the commission's work lies buried under the later reforms that have deprived that court of its independent existence, Turner's efforts served to let the light in upon many dark places, and so prepared the way for their disappearance. In 1853 he became a lord justice of appeal in chancery, and held that position until his death, which took place on 9 July 1867 at 23 Park Crescent, London. He was buried at Kelshall, near Royston, Hertfordshire. Turner was at the time of his death a bencher of Lincoln's Inn, a governor of the Charterhouse, and a fellow of the Royal Society. On 7 June 1853 he received the honorary degree of D.C.L. from the university of Oxford. He married, in 1823, Louisa, youngest daughter of Edward Jones of Brackley, Northamptonshire, by whom he had six sons and three daughters. Turner's chief title to remembrance is his work as a judge. For many years the court of appeal in chancery was presided over by Lords-justices Knight Bruce and Turner. The marked contrast in their habits of thought and mode of expression—the vivacity and dry humour of Knight Bruce, and the steadiness and gravity of Turner—blended admirably in result, and their joint judgments have stood the test of time. Turner was on all occasions jealous to repel any attempt to narrow the limits of the jurisdiction of the court, and courageous in expanding its remedial powers to meet modern developments.

[Collections and Notes of the Turner Family of Mulbarton and Great Yarmouth (Harward Turner); Standard, 11 July 1867; Law Journal, 19 July 1867; Solicitors' Journal, 13 July 1867; Saturday Review, 13 July 1867; Gent. Mag. 1867, ii. 246.]

E. F. T.