Johnston, Alexander James (DNB00)

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JOHNSTON, ALEXANDER JAMES (1820–1888), puisne judge of the supreme court, New Zealand, eldest son of James S. Johnston of Wood Hill, Kinnellar, Aberdeenshire, was born at Kinnellar in 1820. He entered at Lincoln's Inn 12 Nov. 1838, migrated to the Middle Temple 21 Dec. 1842, and was called to the bar by the latter society 27 Jan. 1843. He practised for several years in Westminster Hall, and went on the northern circuit until 1857, when he was appointed deputy-recorder of Leeds. He went out to New Zealand in 1859; was appointed one of the judges of the supreme court in the Wellington district in the following year, and in 1876 was transferred to the Canterbury district. As judge he tried the greater part of the native prisoners during the Te Kooti and Tito Kowaru wars. He also tried the Mūngatapū murderers. Johnston occupied a dignified position during the Maori panic of 1869, opposing the outcry for summary trials by court-martial and quoting with great effect the words of Chief-justice Cockburn (in Regina v. Nelson and Brand) against lightly superseding the ordinary tribunals (see Rusden, History of New Zealand, ii. 551). He was chief justice of New Zealand for the two years, 1867 and 1886. He was a member of several commissions appointed for legal purposes, the most important being the Statute Law Consolidation Commission, which met in 1879. Johnston returned to England for the benefit of his health in the spring of 1888, and died there on 1 June in the same year.

Johnston published: 1. ‘A Lecture on the Influence of Art upon Human Happiness,’ Napier, 1861, 8vo. 2. ‘Reports of Cases determined in the Courts of Appeal,’ 1867, 8vo. 3. ‘The New Zealand Justice of the Peace, Resident Magistrate, Coroner, and Constable,’ Wellington, 1879, 8vo.

[Times, 6 June 1888; Melbourne Argus, 5 June 1888; Law Journal for 1888, p. 322; Hazell's Annual, 1889, p. 452; Foster's Men at the Bar; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

T. S.