Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Williams, Charles James Watkin

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WILLIAMS, Sir CHARLES JAMES WATKIN (1828–1884), judge, born on 23 Sept. 1828, was the eldest son of Peter Williams, rector of Llansannan, Denbighshire (afterwards of Llangar, Merionethshire), by Lydia Sophia, daughter of the Rev. James Price of Plas-yn-Lysfaen, Denbighshire. After leaving Ruthin grammar school he studied medicine under Erichsen at University College Hospital, where he won the gold medal for comparative anatomy, and acted for a time as house-surgeon. He became the lifelong friend of Sir Henry Thompson and Sir John Russell Reynolds [q. v.] But he soon determined to abandon medicine for law. He spent a few terms at St. Mary Hall, Oxford, where he matriculated on 1 May 1851, but he found the place uncongenial, and never graduated. In the same i year (1851) he entered at the Middle Temple, and read in the chambers of Horatio Lloyd, the well-known special pleader. When called to the bar three years later, he practised in the same branch of the profession, and in 1857 published 'An Introduction to the Principles and Practice of Pleading in Civil Actions in the Supreme Courts of Law at Westminster.' This work established his reputation and brought him large practice. It continued in use as the standard text-book for students at the Inns of Court till the passing of the Judicature Acts. In 1859 Williams was named 'tubman' of the court of exchequer. He went first the home circuit, and afterwards the south-eastern. He seldom led, and was never ambitious of leading, and relied upon logicality and clearness of statement rather than upon rhetoric or declamation; but he was remarkable for a certain dry humour, and was quite indifferent to hostile criticism. He took silk in 1873. He made a speciality of financial and mercantile cases, such as that of Anderson v. Morice in 1876. In Thomas v. The Queen, in which he had Sir John (afterwards Lord-justice) Holker [q. v.], Sir Richard (afterwards Lord-justice) Baggallay, and Charles Synge Christopher (afterwards Lord) Bowen against him, Williams vindicated the title of the subject to sue the crown for unliquidated damages resulting from breach of contract. Meanwhile Williams had entered parliament, 19 Nov. 1868, as liberal member for the Denbigh boroughs. He sat for that constituency till 1880, when he was elected for Carnarvonshire. As early as 1854 he had published a pamphlet on the 'Law of Church Rates,' and, though himself a churchman, he on 24 May 1870 moved a resolution in the House of Commons in favour of the disestablishment of the church in Wales in a speech which displayed considerable knowledge of ecclesiastical history. The motion was opposed by Mr. Gladstone, and lost by 209 against forty-five votes. In 1875 Williams did good service as a member of Sir Henry (afterwards Lord) James's committee on foreign loans. When Mr. Gladstone returned to office in 1880, he was offered but declined the post of judge-advocate-general. In November of the same year, on the promotion of Sir Robert Lush to a lord-justice- ship, his son-in-law, Williams, was appointed to the vacant puisne judgeship, though he had recently made a public declaration that he would never accept such an office. He was a most painstaking, fair, and independent judge. He concurred in the judgement of the crown cases reserved in upholding the conviction of Most in connection with the murder of the tsar, Alexander II. In Sanders v. Richardson he decided that a parent who sends a child to school without fee is liable to legal penalty. His judgement in the important case of privilege of counsel (Munster v. Lamb), when he nonsuited the plaintiff, was upheld by the superior courts. To the council of judges Williams submitted a paper advocating the abolition of distinctions between the common pleas and exchequer divisions, but the retention of the chiefships. He publicly repudiated their decisions announced in November 1881, declaring that nothing less than an act of parliament should ever induce him to deprive a prisoner of the right of making a statement to a jury of facts not given in evidence. Williams did excellent work when sitting with Mr. Justice Mathew as the tribunal of commerce. In nisi prius business his knowledge and quickness of apprehension were invaluable, but his judgements in complicated cases of law were sometimes diffuse and loosely reasoned.

Williams died suddenly of heart disease on the night of 17 July 1884 at Nottingham, where he was on circuit with Mr. Justice Lopes (afterwards Lord Ludlow). He was buried at Kensal Green cemetery on 22 July.

Besides the works mentioned, he published in 1853 'An Essay upon the Philosophy of Evidence, with a Discussion concerning the Belief in Clairvoyance;' of this excellent book a second edition was issued in 1855.

Williams was twice married, and left several children. His first wife, Henrietta, daughter of William Henry Carey, esq., and niece of Vice-chancellor Malins, died in 1864. In the following year he married Elizabeth, daughter of Lord-justice Lush, who survived him.

[Private information; Times, 19 and 21 July 1884; Law Times, 26 July 1884; A Generation of Judges, by their Reporter (W. F. Finlason), pp. 211-17; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715-1886; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, 4 Oct. 1884; A Reminiscence (probably by Chief-justice Way of South Australia), reprinted from the South Australian Register.]

G. Le G. N.