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On this day in history in 1890, was born A P Herbert.
Herbert was a lawyer, journalist and humorist, and a politician who satirised the British legal system with his fictionalised whimsical narratives of bizarre legal cases.
Alan Patrick Herbert was born in Ashtead, Surrey, and the son of a bureaucrat in the India Office. He attended Winchester School and New College, Oxford, where he took a First in Jurisprudence. After service in the Royal Navy, during the First World War, Herbert was called to the bar in 1918.
Herbert practiced law and simultaneously wrote satirical pieces for the comic magazine Punch. Herbert became famous for his Misleading Cases, fictional chronicles of actions before the court. These cases featured an inveterate litigant, Albert Haddock, who always contrived to construe the law to his advantage. One case involved Haddock having a dispute with the Inland Revenue and paying his taxes with a cheque drawn on a cow. Haddock wrote the name of the payee, the amount payable and signed the cow and drove the beast to the offices of the Revenue in settlement. It was held that the cow was a legal ‘document’ and the ‘cheque’ settled the debt.
In another case, Haddock, in fury at the Inland Revenue’s decision to tax his wife’s earnings as his own, went through a divorce and then remarried his wife, using a loophole to make the marriage legally invalid. The Haddocks were therefore married in the sight of God, and the neighbours, but not in the eyes of the law, or the Inland Revenue.
In 1935, Herbert was elected to Parliament as the independent member for Oxford University. He campaigned against the divorce laws of the time, which required ‘proof’ for a divorce on the grounds of adultery. It was common practice, at that time, for the reluctantly married to obtain a divorce by feigning evidence of adultery. Herbert introduced the Matrimonial Causes Bill, which was enacted, sweeping aside the humbug of divorce laws. Herbert was involved in a real life Misleading Case when he brought a case against the House of Commons for opening the bar without a licence, but the High Court ruled against him on the grounds of Parliamentary privilege. He is the only member recorded as having ‘sung’ a speech in the Commons.
Herbert remained in the Commons until the University Seats were abolished in 1950. He was knighted in 1945 for political services. He died, aged 81, in 1971.
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