Pemberton, Sir Francis: Lord Chief Justice

Sir Francis Pemberton

Sir Francis Pemberton

Sir Francis Pemberton (18 July 1624 – 10 June 1697) was an English judge and briefly Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench. He was born at St Albans, the son and heir of a former London merchant, and was educated at St Albans School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. On 14 October 1645, he was admitted a member of the Inner Temple. As a young man, he fell into dissolute company and acquired extravagant habits, leading to his imprisonment in the Fleet for debt. There he applied himself diligently to the study of the law and, having eventually secured his release, he was called to the Bar on 27 November 1654. In 1667 Pemberton married Anne Whichcote, the daughter of Jeremy Whichcote, Warden of Fleet Prison. They had numerous children, as his memorial in Highgate chapel records.

Pemberton rapidly acquired a substantial practice and was regularly retained by the Government in important criminal cases. In 1675 he was called to the degree of Sergeant-at-law and was thereafter regarded as the foremost advocate of his day. 

Appearing at the bar of the House of Lords to argue an appeal to which some members of the House of Commons were respondents, Pemberton inadvertently triggered a constitutional struggle for supremacy between the two Houses of Parliament. The House of Commons had resolved that it would be a breach of their privileges for any lawyer to act in the appeal and ordered that he should be taken into custody. The House of Lords thereupon ordered his release. The resulting tug-of-war ended only when King Charles II intervened and Pemberton was set free.

In 1683 he was appointed to head the Commission set up to deal with the Rye House Plot and presided over the trial of Lord Russell. Although Russell was convicted, Pemberton was regarded as having conducted himself with unbefitting moderation during the trial and he was dismissed from all judicial employment on 28 September 1683. John Evelyn wrote in his diary for 4 October 1683: “He was held to be the most learned of the judges and an honest man”.

Pemberton again returned to the bar and again acquired a substantial practice, acting successfully in the defence of the Seven Bishops. In 1689, he faced a further petition alleging that he had breached the privileges of the House of Commons. On this occasion, the allegation was that, as Lord Chief Justice, he had allowed legal proceedings to be pursued against the Sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons in respect of his official activities. Pemberton was imprisoned for eight months in Newgate Prison.

After his release, Pemberton’s practice substantially diminished and he spent much of his time at his house in Highgate, though he was retained in the unsuccessful defence of Sir John Fenwick in 1696. He died on 10 June 1697[4] and is buried in Highgate Chapel.

The above was taken from wikipedia.org.