A Great Jurist.
Chichele Professor at Oxford.
The death of Sir Henry Erle Richards K.C.S.I., K.C., Chichele Professor of International Law and Diplomacy at Oxford, and formerly Legal Member of Council in India, which is announced on another page, removes a jurist of real eminence. His services in India were of great value, while later, at Oxford, he proved himself a teacher of rare quality. Personally, he was a man of much charm and humour, who leaves attached friends all over the world.
The eldest son of the Prebendary Richards, he came of a family which bears an honoured name in the legal world. His great-grandfather was the well-known Chief Baron whose descendants have numbered at least one K.C. in each successive generation. His great uncle was Sir William Erle, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. Nothing was more natural, therefore, than that, after going to Eton and New College, Oxford, he should be called to the Bar (Inner Temple, 1887). He joined the Oxford Circuit, and attracting the notice of Sir Robert (now Lord) Finlay, was associated with him in important Government work. He was one of the counsel representing Great Britain in the Samoan and Venezuelan arbitrations at The Hague. Moreover, he became connected with a family distinguished in legal as well as educational circles, for in 1897 he married the eldest daughter of the late Mr. Spencer Butler, of Lincoln's Inn, and was thus a brother-in-law of Sir Harcourt Butler, the Governor of the United Provinces.
Still, it was with some surprise that the public in India learned at the close of 1904 that Lord Curzon had asked for the services of this junior member of the Bar for the great office of Legal Member of the Government of India. The misgivings on the subject, based on comparisons with the fame of Macaulay, Maine and Stephen when appointed, soon passed away, because the advantages of selecting a practising lawyer were demonstrated.
The chief enactment of Richards's five years' tenure was the revision of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which had been mooted for a dozen years or more. A committee appointed by his predecessor, the late Sir Thomas Raleigh, had produced a voluminous draft Bill which collapsed under its own weight and was still-born. Richards, soon after his arrival, put forward an alternative scheme based on the plan of the insertion of broad general principles in the Code and the creation of rule-making bodies to control the rules of practice in the Courts and the details of procedure. The scheme had the advantages of elasticity and adaptation to changing conditions. The support of the High Courts was secured, and the long-delayed revision was effected by the Legislature without dissent. Another reform was the extension of the Insolvency Act for the Presidency Towns, with necessary modifications to the mofussil.
Through the Legal Member of Council intervened rarely in public discussions of a political character, it is known that he gave great assistance to Lord Minto in shaping reforms associated with his name and that of Lord Morley. He was an effective speaker, and some of his after-dinner utterances in Calcutta are still remembered. He was popular with Indians and Europeans alike, and his practical capacity for getting things done was assisted by his sense of humour and good judgment of men. It was felt that the K.C.S.I. which rounded off his five years' service was well earned.
Sir Erle had taken silk in 1905, and on returning to England he lost no time in resuming practice. He was made counsel to the India Office, practising chiefly before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and in 1910 he was counsel for Newfoundland and Canada in the North Atlantic Coast Fisheries Arbitration at The Hague.
In 1911 Sir Erle was appointed to the Chichele Chair at Oxford on the resignation of Sir Erskine Holland. During his tenure the subject of international law has naturally been of increasing importance, and has attracted many students, including not a few post-graduate researchers from America. He brought to it not only a remarkably acute legal mind, but the almost unique experience which he had gained in the various arbitration Courts in which he had represented Great Britain. His lectures were admirable in both delivery and content, clear, concise, and practical in their outlook. He was not satisfied merely to carry out his professional duties, but gave every encouragement to students of the subject, and indeed of law in general. It was largely at his suggestion that there were established the moots which have played so large a part lately in the training of men reading jurisprudence. At these meetings it is the custom to discuss important points of law under the guise of actions in Court, and Sir Erle was most successful in persuading Judges and other eminent legal men to preside.
Sir Erle had a great variety and width of interests. He was a fine shot and fisherman, a delightful companion, and so witty and humorous a talker that a stranger night not have realized the depth of his character. As Chichele Professor he was a Fellow of All Souls; he took the greatest interest in the affairs of the college, and was a most popular member of its common room, and a real friend not only to his contemporaries, but also to the younger Fellows.