Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Amphlett, Richard Paul

AMPHLETT, Sir RICHARD PAUL (1809–1883), judge, was the eldest son of the Rev. Richard Holmden Amphlett, lord of the manor and rector of Hadsor in Worcestershire. (The pedigree of the family from William Amphlett, lord of the manor in the time of James I, will be found in Nash's Worcestershire, i. 481.) By birth he was a native of Shropshire. He was educated at the grammar school of Brewood in Staffordshire, on leaving which he went to Cambridge, entering St. Peter's College; and in the mathematical tripos of 1831 he was placed sixth wrangler. Declining a tutorship at Jesus College, he went to the bar, and was called by the society of Lincoln's Inn in Trinity term, 1834. He read with Tyrrell, the conveyancer, who was then placing his great knowledge of law at the service of the Real Property Commission, and afterwards with Turner, the future lord justice; and for some years he went the Oxford circuit, though he proposed to practise as an equity lawyer. Success came to him slowly, and it was not till 1858, during Lord Chelmsford's chancellorship, that he took silk. From that time he gradually rose to be one of the leaders in the vice-chancellor's court in which he settled, and over which in his time presided successively Page Wood, afterwards Lord Hatherley, Giffard, James, and Bacon. During his whole career the equity bar was peculiarly rich in men of distinguished talent, and among them he gained the reputation, not indeed of a great, but of a courteous and able, advocate. Meanwhile he had a brief period of political life. In 1859 he had unsuccessfully contested Lewes, but in 1868 he was returned for East Worcestershire, and sat as a liberal conservative. In the House of Commons he never spoke except on legal questions. During the important debates, however, which ended in the greatest legal change of modern times, he took a chief and useful part. ‘The suggestions of the hon. and learned member,’ on one occasion said Sir G. Jessel, the solicitor-general, ‘were always made for the purpose of advancing measures.’ He entered with especial interest into the subject of legal education, a new scheme of which was then in preparation, and was chosen in 1873 to fill Lord Selborne's place as president of the Legal Education Association.

In 1874, on the resignation of Sir Samuel Martin, Amphlett was raised to the bench by Lord Selborne as a baron of the exchequer. The appointment may be regarded as the first actual step taken towards the fusion of law and equity declared by the Judicature Act of 1873. In the times when the Court of Exchequer exercised a separate equity jurisdiction, there were precedents for choosing its barons from among Lincoln's Inn lawyers, the last case being that of Rolfe (afterwards Lord Cranworth), in whose time the equity jurisdiction of the court was abolished; and, indeed, a similar reason existed in 1874, for it was intended, though in fact the intention was abandoned, that the new exchequer division should deal with bankruptcy. Amphlett hesitated to accept the position, knowing its peculiar difficulties. For more than a year the unfamiliar common law procedure would still be in force; several of the judges who would be his colleagues were known to be bitterly opposed to the fusion; and he feared that they would give only a cold welcome to himself, whose appointment was its first manifestation. These fears, however, proved groundless, and both at Westminster and on circuit he was acknowledged to be a successful judge. In 1876 Lord Cairns promoted him to the Court of Appeal, where he sat for only a year. A stroke of paralysis compelled him to retire, and he lived with broken health till 7 Dec. 1883.

His more important judgments will be found in the ‘Law Reports’ from 9 Exchequer to 2 Exchequer Division, and in the ‘Law Journal’ from vol. xliii. to vol. xlvi. He took part in the famous Franconia case, The Queen v. Keyn (L.R. 2 Ex. D. 63; 46 L.J. Magistrate's Cases, 17), when a full court sat to decide whether the Central Criminal Court had jurisdiction to try a foreigner for an offence committed on board a foreign ship within three miles of the English shore. Amphlett held, with the minority of the court, that there was jurisdiction, on the ground that the sea within three miles of the English shore is English territory.

Amphlett was married in 1840 to Frances, daughter of Mr. Edward Ferrand of St. Ives, near Bingley, Yorkshire, and in 1880 to Sarah Amelia, daughter of Mr. C. Martin of Belvedere, Hampshire. He left no children.

[Times, 10 Dec. 1883; Law Journal, Solicitor's Journal, and Law Times, 15 Dec. 1883; Hansard; Burke's Landed Gentry.]

G. P. M.