DENMAN, THOMAS, 1st Baron (1779–1854), English judge, was born in London, the son of a well-known physician, on the 23rd of July 1779. He was educated at Eton and St John’s College, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1800. Soon after leaving Cambridge he married; and in 1806 he was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn, and at once entered upon practice. His success was rapid, and in a few years he attained a position at the bar second only to that of Brougham and Scarlett (Lord Abinger). He distinguished himself by his eloquent defence of the Luddites; but his most brilliant appearance was as one of the counsel for Queen Caroline. His speech before the Lords was very powerful, and some competent judges even considered it not inferior to Brougham’s. It contained one or two daring passages, which made the king his bitter enemy, and retarded his legal promotion. At the general election of 1818 he was returned M.P. for Wareham, and at once took his seat with the Whig opposition. In the following year he was returned for Nottingham, for which place he continued to sit till his elevation to the bench in 1832. His liberal principles had caused his exclusion from office till in 1822 he was appointed common serjeant by the corporation of London. In 1830 he was made attorney-general under Lord Grey’s administration. Two years later he was made lord chief justice of the King’s Bench, and in 1834 he was raised to the peerage. As a judge he is most celebrated for his decision in the important privilege case of Stockdale v. Hansard (9 Ad. & El. I.; 11 Ad. & El. 253), but he was never ranked as a profound lawyer. In 1850 he resigned his chief justiceship and retired into private life. He died on the 26th of September 1854, his title continuing in the direct line.
The Hon. George Denman (1819–1896), his fourth son, was also a distinguished lawyer, and a judge of the Queen’s Bench from 1872 till his death in 1896.
See Memoir of Thomas, first Lord Denman, by Sir Joseph Arnould (2 vols., 1873); E. Manson, Builders of our Law (1904).