Hannen, James (DNB01)
HANNEN, Sir JAMES, Baron Hannen (1821–1894), a life peer, judge, born at Peckham in 1821, was son of James Hannen of Kingswood Lodge, Dulwich, a London wine merchant, and of Susan, the daughter of William Lee of Nayland, Suffolk. He was educated at St. Paul's School from 1831 to 1839, and at Heidelberg University (St. Paul's School Reg. pp. 284, 451). He was admitted student of the Middle Temple on 30 Oct. 1841, was called to the bar on 14 Jan. 1848, and joined the home circuit. He seems to have begun speedily to acquire practice in London, and to have done well as a junior both on circuit and at the Guildhall. He was described by a contemporary as a 'clear but frigid and passionless speaker, accurate, precise, and painstaking, well endowed with practical good sense.' It was 'understood,' with the reserve which in those days was the proper thing in respect of men who hoped for success at the bar, that he reported for the ' Morning Chronicle ' and wrote for the press. About 1863 he was appointed junior counsel to the treasury, or 'attorney-general's devil,' and in 1865 he was a parliamentary candidate in the liberal interest for Shoreham and the rape of Bramber, but without success. His chief public appearance while at the bar was when he appeared as junior to the law officers at the trial of the Manchester fenians in 1867. In 1868 Hannen was appointed a judge of the court of queen's bench, made serjeant-at-law (15 April 1868), and knighted (14 May); and in 1872 judge of the court of probate and the divorce court, on which occasion he was sworn of the privy council. In 1875 he became, by the operation of the judicature acts, president of the probate, divorce, and admiralty division of the high court, and held that office until he was created a lord of appeal in ordinary in 1891; on 27 June 1878 he was elected bencher of the Middle Temple, and in 1888 he was created D.C.L. of Oxford University.
In 1888 Hannen was selected by the government to act as president of the special commission appointed to inquire into the charges brought by the ' Times ' against Charles Stewart Parnell [q. v.] and other Irish nationalists. The other commissioners were Sir J. C. Day and Sir A. L. Smith, both judges of the high court; and it is probable that by their selection of commissioners the government entirely frustrated the intention with which the Special Commission Act had been passed. What they seem to have intended was a commission which should itself inquire and investigate. What the commissioners did was to allow the parties interested to offer such evidence as they chose, and try the case as if it had been an action for libel tried before them as judges without a jury. Hannen presided throughout 129 sittings with all his accustomed dignity and impartiality, though in two or three instances he was unusually and almost inexplicably forbearing when attacks were made upon the constitution or the impartiality of the tribunal. The report was short and of a remarkably negative character, although it definitely established the existence of a treasonable conspiracy among a number of specified persons. It contained a very large number of conclusions of 'not proved,' in regard to allegations as to which a special jury, upon a plea of justification in an action for libel, could hardly have failed to find the justification proved if they had taken the view of the evidence held by the court. This was especially so with regard to the allegations made by the ' Times ' concerning the use made of the funds of the land league and national league.
On 21 Jan. 1891 Hannen was appointed a lord of appeal in ordinary, and was granted the dignity of a baron for life by the style and title of Baron Hannen of Burdock, co. Sussex. In 1892 he was selected to act as arbitrator on behalf of this country in the arbitration at Paris upon the questions at issue between the United Kingdom and the United States as to the rights of seal-fishing in the Behring Sea [cf. art. Russell, Charles, Baron Russell of Killowen, Suppl.] His discharge of this laborious duty added still further to his reputation, and was eminently satisfactory to all parties concerned. Subject to this interruption Hannen sat regularly in the House of Lords and the judicial committee of the privy council until his death, which occurred at his house in Lancaster Gate on 29 March 1894; he was buried in Norwood cemetery. He married, on 4 Feb. 1847, Mary Elizabeth, second daughter of Nicholas Winsland, who died on 1 Dec. 1872, and he left a family surviving him.
A portrait of him by T. Blake Wirgman is in the possession of his son, the Hon. James Hannen, and a replica belongs to the benchers of the Middle Temple. Hannen's personal appearance and manner accorded in the most striking manner with the popular conception of a judge, as a grave, tranquil, impartial, and venerable officer. He had a peculiar gift for making his meaning perfectly clear in the fewest words, and could indicate rebuke by a word or an intonation. He was consequently master of his own court, and of every one that appeared before him, to an unusual degree, and the business before him was conducted with the happiest combination of deliberation and despatch.
General contemporary opinion of Hannen as a judge was expressed with but little exaggeration by Lord Coleridge when he said, sitting in the divorce court on the day of Hannen's funeral: 'If there has been a greater English judge during the seventy-three years of my life than Lord Hannen, it has not been my good fortune to see him or to know him,' and in the course of the same observations he described him as 'a man of great ability, of remarkable learning, of an intellect strong, capacious, penetrating, powerful, with a singular grasp of facts, and a great power of dealing with them when they were grasped like a master.' On the same day Sir F. Jeune, who had succeeded Hannen as president of the probate division, said: 'Lord Hannen pronounced many judgments which have become landmarks in the law. They are couched in that accurate and dignified language of which he was so great a master. But speaking in the presence of those who know I venture to say that his fame is even more securely based on his careful, his independent, and his decorous administration of justice day by day.'
[Times, 30 March 1894; Foster's Men at the Bar; G. E. C[okayne]'s Complete Peerage, iv. 157-8, viii. 415; private information.]