The Pembroke Legal Tradition: some famous Pembroke lawyers

Pembroke College has a particularly long association with the law. As you can see from the list below, several famous and important lawyers have, at one time or another, attended Pembroke College or, as it was until 1624, Broadgates Hall.

The Civil Lawyers

Broadgates Hall has been described as the “chief resort of the students of law”, and was, for its early days, a hostel for law students. Broadgates Hall has its own place in legal history as the home of a number of Civil and Canon lawyers. One such was John Story, lecturer in Civil Law, a Principal of Broadgates Hall in 1537, who was “the most noted Civilian and Canonist of his time and the first Regius Professor of Civil Law until his resignation in 1553. A catholic martyr, he was beatified by papal decree in 1886. The study of Canon law was ended at Oxford and Cambridge by Henry VIII. Another famous figure is Henry Swinburne, a post-reformation Canon Lawyer. He went to Hart Hall in Oxford, and graduated with a BCL (Bachelor of Civil Law) from Broadgates Hall in 1579. Swinburne was the first writer on the Canon Law in English, and produced two books, A Briefe Treatise of Testaments and Last Wills (1590 – 1591) and A Treatise of Spousals or Matrimonial Contracts (1686).

William Blackstone

Blackstone is one of the true giants of English Common Law. He became a student at Pembroke College on 30 November 1738 at the age of 15. He was unanimously elected for an exhibition to attend. While at Pembroke, a “hatchery for lawyers”, he excelled as a mathematics and classics scholar. In 1741 he attended the Middle Temple to train as barrister, and was called in 1746. The call of legal academia proved stronger, however, and in 1744 he was elected a fellow at All Souls College, taking a Doctor of Civil Law (DCL) in 1750. In 1753, Dr William Blackstone began lecturing on the laws of England. His lectures were not for the trained lawyer, but for the country gentlemen and clergymen in need of some legal knowledge.

He became Professor William Blackstone, the first holder of the Vinerian Professorship, in 1758. Despite its apparently modest educational aims, it is impossible to understate the importance of those lectures, which were eventually published in four volumes between 1765 and 1769, under the title Commentaries on the Laws of England. It was not the first, but probably the greatest, attempt to organise the English Common Law into a rational and clear structure. It was also a course of lectures designed to invigorate legal education in England, an area in which England had been (and would continue to be) more deficient than any European country. More specifically, however, those lectures were intended to instate the study of the common law at Universities in an attempt to break the monopoly of the study of the Civil, meaning Roman, Law. Blackstone set out his aims in his opening Vinerian Lecture on 25 October 1758, entitled “Of the Study of the Law”, in which he made the case for the study of the English Common Law. Although his successors to the Vinerian chair were, perhaps, less successful in nurturing this academic subject, Blackstone’s legacy is inestimable in England and the United States of America, where his Commentaries became and remain a major resource for judges and practitioners. They would also go on to inform the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America.

Robert Heuston

Robert Heuston was Pembroke College’s first law fellow. Of his many achievements, his two volumes of the Lives of the Lord Chancellors are widely regarded as an outstanding achievement in legal and political biography.

John Eekelaar

John Eekelaar was senior Fellow in Law from 1965-2005. He is one of the leading authorities on Family Law and continues to write and research in that area.

Lord Carswell

Robert Carswell read Law at Pembroke, matriculating in 1952. He had a distinguished career in the judiciary, serving as Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland from 1997 to 2004. Lord Carswell was made a QC in 1971 and became a Privy Counsellor in 1993. He was appointed a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary as Baron Carswell, of Killeen in the County of Down in January 2004, having been knighted in 1988. During 2009 and 2010, Lord Carswell chaired an inquiry into the roles of Jersey's Crown Officers (the Bailiff, Deputy Bailiff, Attorney General and Solicitor General), presenting a report recommending reforms to the States of Jersey in December 2010.

Sir John Mummery

Sir John came up to Pembroke in 1959 and read Law. Afterwards he was to the Bar at Gray's Inn and specialised in copyright cases. He was appointed to the Chancery Division of the High Court in October 1989 and was subsequently appointed a Lord Justice of Appeal in October 1996, in which capacity he served until his retirement in 2013.