Jervis, Sir John 1802-1856, lord chief justice of the common pleas, born on 12 Jan. 1802, was younger son of Thomas Jervis, K.C. (the last puisne justice of Chester), and second cousin of John Jervis [qv.], earl St. Vincent. He was educated as a town boy at Westminster School, where he was admitted on 18 Sept. 1815. In his fifteenth year he became a member of the Middle Temple, and on 13 Nov. 1819 matriculated at Trinity College, Cambridge. He left the university without a degree, and is said to have gone into the army and to have held a commission in the carabiniers, but his name is not to be found in the army lists.
He was called to the bar on 6 Feb. 1824, and joined the Oxford circuit, where his father was one of the leaders, but subsequently changed to the North Wales and Chester circuit. From 1826 to 1832 Jervis reported in the exchequer court in conjunction first with Edward Younge, and afterwards with Charles John Crompton [qv.]. By this means he acquired great familiarity with legal practice, and in a comparatively short time became the leader of his circuit and the possessor of a lucrative business at Westminster and Guildhall. At the general election in December 1832 he was returned for Chester in the liberal interest to the first reformed parliament, and continued to sit for that city until his elevation to the bench. In 1837, having refused the offer of a silk gown, he was granted a patent of precedence. In May 1839 he voted with Grote, Hume, and Sir William Molesworth against the Melbourne ministry on the Jamaica government bill (Parl. Debates, 3rd ser. xlvii. 970-2). On the formation of Lord John Russell's first administration in 1846, Jervis was appointed solicitor-general (4 July), and three days after succeeded to the post of attorney-general, in the place of Sir Thomas Wilde, who had been made chief justice of the common pleas. Jervis was knighted on 1 Aug. 1846. In the session of 1848 the three bills regulating the duties of the justices of the peace out of sessions with respect to indictable offences, summary convictions, and orders, and for the protection of justices, which were introduced by the attorney-general into the House of Commons, and are known by the name of Jervis's Acts, became law (11 & 12 Vict. cc. 42, 43, 44). When Lord Denman's intention to retire was announced, Jervis asserted his claim as attorney-general to the office of lord chief justice of England. A correspondence ensued between Jervis and Lord John Russell on the subject, and ultimately Lord John, having on Lord Cottenham's authority declared that the only chiefship which the attorney-general for the time being could claim by usage was that of the court of common pleas, gave the appointment to Lord Campbell. Shortly afterwards Lord John promulgated his scheme for the bisection of the lord chancellor's office, the political moiety of which (the speakership of the House of Lords with a peerage and the title of lord keeper) he offered to Jervis. The measure, however, proved abortive, and on 16 July 1850 Jervis, having been duly called to the degree of the coif, was appointed lord chief justice of the common pleas, in the place of Sir Thomas Wilde, who had been raised to the woolsack with the title of Baron Truro. Jervis was sworn a member of the privy council on 14 Aug. 1850, and took his seat on the judicial bench for the first time at the opening of Michaelmas term (Common Bench Reports, x. 2). He presided over the court for six years, and died suddenly at his house in Eaton Square on 1 Nov. 1856, aged 54.
Jervis was a man of considerable abilities, his chief characteristic being the rapidity with which he seized upon the real point of the case and the soundness of the judgment which he then and there formed upon it. He was somewhat impatient of argument, and at times betrayed irritability on the bench. His judgments were remarkable for their terse and lucid language and strong masculine sense. In 1824 he married Catherine Jane, second daughter of Alexander Mundell of Great George Street, Westminster. He left five children, viz.: John, who was called to the bar at the Middle Temple 12 Jan. 1849, and died 8 July 1860; Edward Lennox, born in 1834, late major 6th dragoon guards; Philip Vincent, who died 26 March 1863; Annie, who was married to John Scott Bankes of Soughton Hall, Flintshire, on 2 Aug. 1849; and Grace Catherine, who was married first, on 12 Dec. 1861, to Edward John Parker-Jervis, and secondly, in June 1873, to William T. Locker. Lady Jervis survived her husband, and died on 26 Aug. 1862.
Jervis was appointed on 13 May 1850 president of the commission for inquiring into the process, practice, and system of pleading in the common law courts. The first and second reports of this commission are signed by him (Parl. Papers, 1851 vol. xxii., 1852-3 vol. xl.). He was one of the originators of, and a principal contributor to, the Jurist, the first number of which appeared on 14 Jan. 1837. Besides editing the fourth and the four subsequent editions of Archbold's Summary of the Law relative to Pleading and Evidence in Criminal Cases, he wrote the following legal works: 1. Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Courts of Exchequer and Exchequer Chamber, at Law, in Equity, and in Error, from Michaelmas Term 7 Geo. IV (to Hilary Term 10 & 11 Geo. IV), &c. By Edward Younge and John Jervis — Barristers-at-Law, London, 1828-30, 8vo, 3 vols. 2. A Practical Treatise on the Office and Duties of Coroners; with an Appendix of Forms and Precedents, London, 1829, 12mo; 2nd edit. by W. N. Welsby, London, 1854, 12mo; 3rd edit. by C. W. Lovesy, London, 1866, 12mo; 4th edit. by Rudolph E. Melsheimer, London, 1880, 8vo; 5th edit. by Rudolph E. Melsheimer, London, 1888, 8vo. 3. All the Rules of the Courts of King's Bench and Common Pleas and Exchequer since the Statute of 1 Will. IV, c. 70. [Edited] with Notes and an Index by John Jervis, London, 1832, 12mo; 2nd edit. London, 1832, 8vo; 4th edit. London, 1839, 8vo. 4. Reports of Cases argued and determined in the Courts of Exchequer and Exchequer Chamber from Easter Term 11 Geo. IV (to Trinity Term 2 Will. IV), &c. By Charles Crompton — and John Jervis — Barristers-at-Law, London, 1832-3, 8vo, 2 vols.
Law Magazine and Review, 1857, ii. 302-7
Jurist, 1856, new ser. vol. ii. pt. ii. p. 458
Law Times, xxviii. 85-6
Foss's Judges of England, 1864, ix. 216-18
Ann. Reg. 1856, App. to Chron. pp. 277-8
Gent. Mag. 1838 new ser. x. 445, 1849 new ser. xxxii. 314, 1856 new ser. i. 772-3, 1862 new ser. xii. 84, 1863 new ser. xiv. 669
Illustrated London News, 8 Nov. 1856
Burke's Peerage, 1888, p. 1220
Whishaw's Synopsis of the Bar, 1835, p. 76
Alumni Westmon. 1852, pp. 553, 554
Official List of Members of Parliament, pt. ii. pp. 340, 352, 364, 380, 398
Brit. Mus. Cat.
Contributor: G. F. R. B. [George Fisher Russell Barker]