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Sir Lewis William Cave



We regret to announce the death of the Hon. Sir William Lewis Cave, a Judge of the Queen's Bench Division, which occurred at two o'clock yesterday morning at his residence, the Manor-house, Woodmansterne, Epsom. Last Thursday afternoon, while in his study, he had a paralytic seizure. He was alone at the time. Lady Cave, who was in an adjoining room, heard a fall, and, hastening to the study, found him lying on the floor. A telegram was immediately despatched to Dr. Alexander, of Epsom, who was speedily in attendance, and a further telegram was sent to an eminent physician in London. It is understood, however, that Mr. Justice Cave never regained complete consciousness. It had long been known that he was in bad health. He had often of late, even before completing his term of 15 years' service, talked of resigning, and he had even made preparations for retiring to the country to enjoy well-earned repose. He changed his mind and remained on the Bench until the end of last sittings; but it was understood that his resignation had been placed in the Chancellor's hands and that he would not again appear in Court.

Had Mr. Justice Cave died or resigned some years ago, the almost universal verdict would have been that few more efficient and capable Judges had sat on the Bench in recent years. And the first thought of all lawyers on hearing of his death will be the thought of his excellent work as a Judge, his capacity, integrity, and fearlessness. He came to the Bar with few of the qualities which are supposed to smooth the path to success. He had made no mark as a scholar at Oxford, where he took a second class. He had no gifts of eloquence, and probably felt some contempt for what passes as such. Nor was his manner exactly calculated to disarm opposition, for he was always direct and somewhat blunt in speech. At sessions and on the Midland and North-Eastern Circuits he worked hard, and made himself known as a clear-headed, cool, persuasive advocate. He wrote no textbook of first-rate importance, and he did not push is way to the front by entering Parliament. But he edited with care and accuracy "Addison on Contracts" and "Addison on Torts", and some other well-known works. Whatever fell to him to do—as advocate, as revising barrister, or Recorder of Lincoln—he did well. His practice on circuit, together with his experience as editor of the Reports of Crown Cases Reserved, made him an admirable criminal lawyer; and long before he took silk, which was in 1875, he was engaged in almost all important cases, criminal or civil, on his circuit.

In regard to rating and most branches of law coming before Quarter Sessions, real property, and certain parts of commercial law he had knowledge not often equalled among busy advocates who learn their law as occasion requires. As leader he had on circuit no less success than as a junior. His sound legal judgment and his power of plain perspicuous statement commended him equally to a Judge at Nisi Prius and a Court listening to his argument on a motion for a new trial or on a demurrer.

Among his many excellent legal arguments were those in "Lascelles v. Lord Onslow," and in "Lamb v. Walker." But he did not obtain the practice in London to which his talents entitled him; and it was a surprise to some who were not acquainted with his position and reputation on circuit that in 1881 he was made a Judge of the Queen's Bench. The appointment was amply justified. It fell to him to try, at Guildhall, soon after his appointment, some difficult cases, and it will be in the recollection of some now on the Bench or still at the Bar with what precision and decision, what confidence and accuracy, he ruled on points of evidence raised before him or gave directions as to difficult questions of law.

He was alike at home in criminal and civil Courts, in trying a jury case or sitting in the Divisional Court. Fearless, if occasionally over-confident, and brusque and stubborn in his demeanour towards counsel pressing a point which appeared to him untenable, he shirked no difficulty, did not hide vacillations under a cloud of verbiage or impalpable qualifications and reservations; and, if he was occasionally wrong—and in the early days of his judicial career he was curiously often right—he was always intelligible. His directions to juries were singularly clear; and one cannot help referring to the eulogium pronounced by the present Master of the Rolls on his summing up in "Abrath v. the North-Eastern Railway Company," tried before Mr. Justice Cave at Durham. "I envy the clearness with which my brother Cave summed up this case to the jury. I wish I could express what I intend to say as clearly as he stated the case to the jury. A summing up in an action for malicious prosecution I have never read which I more admired."

Probably Mr. Justice Cave was seen to most advantage in the Court for Crown Cases Reserved. He had a deeper grounding in criminal law than many of his colleagues. He was less dependent on the counsel arguing before him for his acquaintance with the trend of authorities. If a lawyer were to pick out a dozen of the best judgments in recent years in the Court for Crown Cases Reserved, a large proportion would be found to be Mr Justice Cave's. One of them is his judgment in "The Queen v. Conly," in which he differed, as he was disposed a little too often to do, from Lord Coleridge, as to the legal position of spectators of a prize fight. Nor ought one to pass in silence the excellent work which he did administering the present Bankruptcy Act when it first came into operation. Not merely did he settle satisfactorily many questions of practice; his knowledge of business, his good sense and penetrating sagacity recommended the new Act to the mercantile community, and helped to reconcile the legal profession to some of its novelties.

It was said of him by one who knew him well that he had no "soft places" in his mental constitution; and, while this virtue was indicative of a disposition to underrate arguments running into subtlety, the author of the phrase had in view the solidity and clearness of his reasoning, and the vigour, if not finish, of his expressions. Even in recent times some of his judgments were masterpieces of forcible reasoning. We referred the other day to his answer to the question propounded to the Judges in "Allen v. Flood"—an answer which puts the case for the plaintiffs with greater plausibility that it had been put in the Courts below; an answer which, in the opinion of many lawyers, assigns better reasons for the decision of the Court of Appeal than were given by that Court.

The late Judge loved plain speech. He always practised it. If an argument was foolish he described it as such. If an interruption from counsel was idle he repressed it without circumlocution. Such sincerity acquires a right to sincerity, and it would be flattery, little consonant with his character, to say that the last years of his judicial career were as distinguished as the first. Perhaps increasing bad health—perhaps too the thought that Judges not his equal in capacity had moved upwards—had impaired his vigour. At all events, the judicial day, short though it is, of late times seemed often too long for him. He was more alert in the morning that in the afternoon. He did not always intervene with his old force as the day wore on. A few drawbacks and infirmities notwithstanding, Mr. Justice Cave will be revered as having preserved some of the best traditions of the English Bench. The powerful, vigorous frame; the keen glance, peering through spectacles; the quick, long stride, suggestive of a strong man; the clear fearless opinion; the terse expression, the rapid decision—all these and other traits will not soon be forgotten.

Mr. Justice Cave married, in 1856, a daughter of the late Rev. C. F. Watkins, Vicar of Brixworth. He was a prominent member of the Masonic body, which he joined on March 4, 1852, when he was initiated in the Apollo University Lodge, No. 357, Oxford, as an undergraduate of Lincoln College. He was one of the founders of the Northern Bar Lodge, No. 1,610, in 1876, on its being started by barristers of the Northern Circuit, and he became Worshipful Master of that Lodge in 1879.

The funeral will take place at 2.30 on Friday at the Church of St Peter, Woodmansterne, which adjoins the grounds of the Manor-house.

From: The Times Wednesday, Sep 08, 1897; pg. 6; Issue 35303; col A

Transcriber's note: the original article has very long paragraphs. Additional breaks have been introduced to make the text easier to read online.

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