Andrews, Sir James, baronet 1877-1951, lord chief justice of Northern Ireland, was born in Comber, county Down, 3 January 1877, the third son of Thomas Andrews, flax spinner, of Ardara, Comber, by his wife, Eliza, daughter of James Alexander Pirrie and sister of William James, Viscount Pirrie [qv.]. Thomas Andrews was president of the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association from 1892 and was sworn of the Privy Council of Ireland in 1903. James Andrews was a brother of Thomas Andrews, shipbuilder, who perished in the Titanic disaster in 1912, and of John Miller Andrews, prime minister of Northern Ireland, 1940-43. He was educated at the Royal Academical Institution, Belfast, and then at Stephen's Green School, Dublin. At Trinity College, Dublin, he had a distinguished career, becoming a senior exhibitioner (1897), a prizeman in civil and international law (1898), and graduating in 1899 with honours in ethics and logics. He was also gold medallist and auditor of the College Historical Society.
Although his family was closely associated with the shipbuilding and linen industries, Andrews's decision to read for the bar was no break with family tradition since his uncle, William Drennan Andrews (1832-1924), had a distinguished career in Dublin as a barrister and then as a judge. At King's Inns, Dublin, James Andrews proved himself an industrious student; in 1900 he was called to the Irish bar and joined what was then the north-east circuit. He built up a lucrative practice and soon established himself as a sound lawyer and a shrewd and capable advocate. In 1918 he took silk; in 1920 he was elected a bencher of King's Inns; and in 1921 he was appointed a lord justice of appeal in the new Supreme Court of Northern Ireland set up under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920. In 1924 he was sworn of the Privy Council of Northern Ireland. In 1926, on its foundation, he was made a bencher of the Inn of Court of Northern Ireland, and in 1928 he was appointed deputy-lieutenant for county Down. In 1937 he succeeded Sir Willeim Moore as lord chief justice, an office which he adorned until his death at Comber 18 February 1951. In 1938 an honorary Doctor of Law from his old university reflected the general satisfaction with which this appointment had been received, and in 1942 he was created a baronet.
Throughout his career on the bench Andrews maintained the firm grasp of legal principles which he had gained as a student and at the bar. This, together with an alert intelligence, a marked capacity for taking pains to master the facts of a case, and the ability to express himself simply and clearly, made him a competent and businesslike judge. But his undoubted success also owed much to the quality of his character and his constant anxiety to do justly and love mercy. Although firm in his rulings and capable of rebuking error, the essential kindness of his nature was never obscured. His patience and care were matched by a courtesy which was the same for all, from the humblest to the greatest, from the rawest junior to the most experienced silk. He did not often show the exasperation which all judges must feel on occasion, and when he did he was not given to sarcasm. Whatever their disappointment, those who lost before him as a trial judge seldom left his court with a sense of grievance or injustice, for he had the natural gift of presiding in a manner which was manifestly fair.
Andrews's interests were not confined to the law. The cause of higher education was also close to his heart and he was an active member of the senate of the Queen's University of Belfast and of many of its committees from 1924 and a pro-chancellor from 1929. During the war of 1939-45 he devoted himself to promoting the savings movement in Northern Ireland and was chairman and later president of the Ulster Savings Committee.
Physically, Andrews was a tall man of dignified appearance. He had a pleasant speaking voice and spoke fluently and well; he had a good command of language, a sense of the appropriate, and a sincerity which informed all he said. He liked the open air and enjoyed shooting and golf. But perhaps his keenest outdoor pleasure was sailing on Strangford Lough or promoting the fortunes of the North Down Cricket Club either as an enthusiastic spectator or on the field, for in his day he was an enterprising batsman and in 1904-7 captained the first eleven. While holding in private as in public life to the highest standards, he remained the most companionable and approachable of men, with few enemies and many friends. He enjoyed the support and encouragement of a very happy marriage, having in 1922 married Jane Lawson (died 1964), daughter of Joseph Ormrod, of Bolton, and widow of Captain Cyril Gerald Haselden, R.E. They had no children.
No portrait of Andrews exists but there is an excellent photograph of him in robes in the Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast.