Sir Samuel Romilly

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Sir Samuel Romilly (rŏm´Ĭlē), 1757–1818, English law reformer. Admitted to the bar in 1783, he soon developed a wide practice in the court of chancery. He was in sympathy with Rousseau's views, and he knew well several figures of the Enlightenment, including Diderot and Jean d'Alembert. Romilly's enthusiasm for the French Revolution inspired his Letters Containing an Account of the Late Revolution in France (1792). His work in reforming criminal law began with his Thoughts on Executive Justice (1786), which developed the views of Beccaria. As solicitor general (1806) in the cabinet of Lord Grenville, he ameliorated bankruptcy practice, and later, while in Parliament, he was instrumental in reducing the many comparatively trivial offenses (e.g., pickpocketing) that were subject to capital punishment. The immediate results of his efforts at reform were small, but during Victoria's reign many of his proposals were adopted.

See his memoirs (ed. by his sons, 1840); biography by P. Medd (1968); R. D. Henson, Landmarks of Law (1960).

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Romilly, Sir Samuel (1757–1818). Legal reformer. Born of a Huguenot family in London, he abandoned religion in favour of Rousseau and continental reformers, including Dumont (later editor of Bentham's works), Beccaria (the Italian legal reformer), and Mirabeau (the French revolutionary leader). An initial enthusiast for the French Revolution, he successfully defended John Binns, the Irish radical, on a sedition charge in 1797. In 1800 he became a king's counsel in Chancery and in 1806 Whig solicitor-general. He sat as MP for Queenborough (1806), Wareham (1808), Arundel (1812), and Westminster (1818), opposing the Corn Law in 1815 and the suspension of habeas corpus in 1817, and supporting the abolition of slavery and catholic emancipation. Romilly wished to reduce the number of capital crimes but most of his time was spent powerless in opposition. He committed suicide four days after the death of his wife in 1818.

Edward Royle