Henry Hawkins, 1st Baron Brampton (1817–1907), English judge, was born at Hitchin, on the 14th of September 1817. He received his education at Bedford school.
The son of a solicitor, he was early familiarized with legal principles. Called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1843, he at once joined the old home circuit, and after enjoying a lucrative practice as a junior, took silk in 1859. His name is identified with many of the famous trials of the reign of Queen Victoria. He was engaged in the Simon Bernard case (of the Orsini plot celebrity), in that of Roupell v. Waite, and in the Overend-Gurney prosecutions. The two causes célbres, however, in which Hawkins attained his highest legal distinction were the Tichborne trials and the great will case of Sugden v. Lord St. Leonards. In both of these he was victorious. In the first his masterly cross-examination of the witness Baigent was one of the great features of the trial.
He did a lucrative business in references and arbitrations, and acted for the royal commissioners in the purchase of the site for the new law courts. Election petitions also formed another branch of his extensive practice.
Hawkins was raised to the bench in 1876, and was assigned to the then exchequer division of the High Court, not as baron (an appellation which was being abolished by the Judicature Act), but with the title of Sir Henry Hawkins. He was a great advocate rather than a great lawyer. His searching voice, his manner, and the variety of his facial expression, gave him an enormous influence with juries, and as a cross-examiner he was seldom, if ever, surpassed. He was an excellent judge in chambers, where he displayed a clear and vigorous grasp of details and questions of fact. His knowledge of the criminal law was extensive and intimate, the reputation he gained as a hanging judge making him a terror to evil-doers; and the court for crown cases reserved was never considered complete without his assistance.
In 1898 he retired from the bench, and was raised to the peerage under the title of Baron Brampton. He frequently took part in determining House of Lords appeals, and his judgments were distinguished by their lucidity and grasp. He held for many years the office of counsel to the Jockey Club, and as an active member of that body found relaxation from his legal and judicial duties at the leading race meetings, and was considered a capable judge of horses. In 1898 he was received into the Roman Catholic Church, and in 1903 he presented, in conjunction with Lady Brampton (his second wife), the chapel of SS. Augustine and Gregory to the Roman Catholic cathedral of Westminster, which was consecrated in that year.
In 1904 he published his Reminiscences. He died in London on the 6th of October 1907, and Lady Brampton in the following year.