Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lens, John

LENS, JOHN (1756–1825), serjeant-at-law, son of John Lens, a well-known land agent in Norwich, was born there on 2 Jan. 1756. He was educated first at a school in Norwich, and then by the Rev. John Peele. In 1775 he matriculated at St. John's College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. in 1779, when he was fourth wrangler and chancellor's medallist, and M.A. in 1782. After leaving Cambridge he entered at Lincoln's Inn, whence he was called to the bar in 1781. He at first joined the Norfolk circuit, but soon transferred himself to the western circuit, which he led for many years. On 12 June 1799 he became a serjeant-at-law, and in 1806 king's serjeant. His practice was extensive, and his position at the bar eminent. He was named a lay fellow of Downing College in its charter in 1800, was treasurer of Serjeants' Inn in 1806, succeeded Spencer Perceval in 1807 as counsel to the university of Cambridge, and was engaged in numerous celebrated cases, of which the chief were the action of Charles Perkin Wyatt, surveyor-general of crown lands in Canada, against General Gore, governor of Upper Canada, for libel, in 1816, and the Cranborne Chase boundaries case in the same year (see Nichols, Literary Illustrations, vi. 223). He sat as commissioner of assize at Guildford and Maidstone in 1818. He had been a friend and adherent of Fox, was a whig by conviction (see Moore, Memoirs, iv. 128), and might, had he chosen, have represented the university of Cambridge in parliament. But he was as indifferent to honours as he was completely disinterested. In December 1813, on the appointment of Sir Robert Dallas to the bench of the common pleas, he declined the solicitor-generalship (see Romilly, Memoirs, iii. 124), although it was pressed upon him by the prime minister at the request of the prince regent, his personal friend. His independence at length became proverbial, and the toast ‘Serjeant Lens and the independence of the bar’ was given at public dinners. In 1817 he retired from his circuit, at the height of his powers, in order to make way for younger men, but continued to practise in London, acting also as commissioner of assize on the home circuit in 1818 (see Campbell, Chief Justices, iii. 225, 289). He refused the chief justiceship of Chester, and Lord Ellenborough strongly recommended him as his own successor in the office of lord chief-justice. He died at Ryde in the Isle of Wight on 6 Aug. 1825. He had married in 1818 Mrs. Nares, widow of John Nares, esq., son of Sir George Nares, a judge of the common pleas. His wife predeceased him on 15 June 1820. A portrait of Lens was at Serjeants' Inn.

[Woolrych's Eminent Serjeants; Annual Biography, 1826; Gent. Mag. 1825; Bain's Catalogue of Portraits in Serjeants' Inn; Law Review, iii. 294; Criticisms on the Bar, by Amicus Curiæ, 1819; Scarlett's Life of Lord Abinger.]

J. A. H.