Chorley, Robert Samuel Theodore, first Baron Chorley 1895-1978, lawyer and conservationist, was born 29 May 1895 at Kendal, Westmorland, the eldest of three sons (there were no daughters) of Richard Fisher Chorley, a solicitor, and his wife, Annie Elizabeth, daughter of Samuel Frost, farmer, of Hardingstone, Northampton. After attending Kendal School Chorley proceeded to Queen's College, Oxford, obtaining a BA in 1916. During World War I he served in the Foreign Office, the Ministry of Labour, and the Cheshire Regiment.
In 1920 he was called to the bar (Inner Temple). Although he did some practice, mainly in the commercial field, he soon turned to law teaching and became tutor and lecturer at the Law Society School of Law. His expertise in banking and commercial law, on which he wrote several books, led to his appointment to the Sir Ernest Cassel chair of commercial and industrial law at the London School of Economics, which he held from 1930 until 1946. During World War II Chorley joined the Home Office and Ministry of Home Security (1940-1) and was appointed a deputy regional commissioner for Civil Defence (1942-4). In 1944 he became chairman of Westmorland quarter-sessions, a post he held until 1968.
The end of the war marked a significant stage in Chorley's career. He unsuccessfully contested the Northwich division as a Labour candidate in 1945. Afterwards he was created a peer in the same year and made lord-in-waiting, an office he held from 1946 to 1950. In that capacity and as chief spokesman for the government in the House of Lords on a number of subjects he played a full part in securing the passage of the huge legislative programme of the Labour government and as a result in 1946 he found it necessary to resign his chair. He was active as a member of government and other committees.
Chorley was a man in the broad tradition of Victorian radicalism and shared fully in the belief in a progressive society to be brought about by universal education and a strong legislative programme. He envisaged a complete change of attitude towards the legal system. For him the human and social problems underlying the morass of technical law were the matters of real concern. He thus became persuaded that what was lacking in Britain was a legal journal of contemporary outlook encompassing the whole problem of law reform in its social and humane context. He was fond of saying that his most important achievement was the foundation and successful development of the Modern Law Review, of which he became the first general editor in 1937, and whose editorship he continued until 1971. This publication played a crucial role in the outlook of successive generations of lawyers who learned from its pages to appreciate that law was no arid field whose interest was confined to a narrow closed-shop of professionals, but something of immense concern to every citizen in the land, and that the law's development called for a legal profession imbued with the sense of a social task.
For Chorley compassion was a sentiment not simply to be indulged in but something which must be manifested in practical action. Thus it was the reform of the penal system which seized his imagination, and into which his long service at quarter-sessions gave him a deep insight. It was therefore most fitting that in 1961 he was made a QC by the lord chancellor, Viscount (later the Earl of) Kilmuir [qv.], who so far departed from the general practice by offering silk to Chorley without previous application. Chorley was vice-president of the Howard League for Penal Reform from 1948, chairman of the Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency (1950-6, president 1956-76), and president of the Haldane Society (1957-72) and of the National Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty (1945-8).
Above all Chorley had a deep attachment to and lifelong concern for the English countryside. As a native of Kendal he had a profound love for the Lake District and became involved in all the major battles to resist encroachments on that hallowed territory. Chorley served as president of the Fell Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District (1935-7), as vice-chairman of the National Trust, and as honorary secretary for the Council for the Preservation of Rural England (1935-67).
Those who only knew Chorley in his later years, when he presented a bent figure peering behind thick glasses, had some difficulty in envisaging him as a mighty man in the world of mountaineering, but in his younger years he was recognized as a leading mountaineer, and later became president of the British Mountaineering Council (1950-3) as well as a vice-president of the Alpine Club (1956-8). With all these accomplishments there was a warmth and geniality to his personality. Despite the difficulties he encountered in recognizing people visually, he had a wonderful and unfailing memory for all his innumerable circle of friends and acquaintances, and not least his students, especially those from overseas. In 1970 he became an honorary fellow of LSE.
In 1925 Chorley married Katharine Campbell, the daughter of Edward Hopkinson, MP, D.Sc., of Alderley Edge, Cheshire. They had two sons and one daughter. Chorley died in hospital in London 27 January 1978 and was succeeded in the barony by his elder son, Roger Richard Edward (born 1930).
The Times, 28 January and 9 February 1978
Modern Law Review, vol. xli, 1978, 121-3
Contributor: Lloyd of Hampstead