Lord Mansfield (1705-1793)

From Wikipedia:

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, PC, SL (2 March 1705 – 20 March 1793) was a British barrister, politician and judge noted for his reform of English law. Born to Scottish nobility, he was educated in Perth, Scotland, before moving to London at the age of 13 to take up a place at Westminster School. He was accepted into Christ Church, Oxford, in May 1723, and graduated four years later. Returning to London from Oxford, he was called to the Bar by Lincoln’s Inn on 23 November 1730, and quickly gained a reputation as an excellent barrister…

As the most powerful British jurist of the century, Mansfield’s decisions reflected the Age of Enlightenment and moved the country onto the path to abolishing slavery. He advanced commercial law in ways that helped establish the nation as world leader in industry, finance and trade. He modernised both English law and the English courts system; he rationalized the system for submitting motions and reformed the way judgments were delivered to reduce expense for the parties. For his work in Carter v Boehm and Pillans v Van Mierop, he has been called the founder of English commercial law. He is perhaps now best known for his judgment in Somersett’s Case (1772), where he held that slavery had no basis in common law and had never been established by positive law (legislation) in England, and therefore was not binding in law; this judgement did not, however, outlaw the slave trade. However, historians note that Mansfield’s ruling in the Somersett case only made it illegal to transport a slave out of England against his will, and did not comment on the institution of slavery itself…

Murray married Elizabeth Finch. They did not have children and took care of their niece, Lady Elizabeth Murray (born 1760), after her mother died. When Mansfield’s nephew Captain Sir John Lindsay returned to Britain in 1765 following the Seven Years’ War and his assignment in the West Indies, he brought his natural daughter whom he called Elizabeth. Of half African descent, she had been born into slavery in 1761, the daughter of Maria Bell, an enslaved woman. Lindsay asked Murray to take on her care and education, and Elizabeth was baptized Dido Elizabeth Belle in 1766 in London…

Murray was called to the Bar on 23 November 1730, taking a set of chambers at 5 King’s Bench Walk. He was introduced to Alexander Pope around this time, and through his friendship met members of the aristocracy, some of whom later became his clients, including Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough. Pope also taught him oratory, which helped him enormously in court…

Lord Mansfield is frequently mentioned in modern legal settings as the originator of “Lord Mansfield’s Rule”, in his own words: “…the law of England is clear, that the declarations of a father or mother, cannot be admitted to bastardize the issue born after marriage.” This quote comes from Mansfield’s appellate decision in Goodright v Moss (1777) 2 Cowp 591, 98 ER 1257 at 592. The primary legal question in the case was not this preexisting principle, which applies only to children “born after marriage”, but rather whether the child had been born before the marriage. The question was whether statements the child’s parents allegedly made before their deaths could be introduced as evidence that the child had been born before their marriage and was thus illegitimate. Mansfield ruled to admit the testimony against the child’s legitimacy and grant a new trial. The term “Lord Mansfield’s Rule” is often used in a slightly different sense to denote the principle still applied in several jurisdictions that marriage creates a conclusive presumption of a husband’s paternity of his wife’s child.

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