While there is doubtless fierce competition for the title of most annoying lawyer, the winner – by a margin – must be one-time Bedford Row solicitor Alexander Chaffers. Quite apart from his appalling treatment of Lady Twiss (see Gazette, 23 March), his behaviour brought about the Vexatious Litigants Act 1896.
Passed with Chaffers in mind, the act was designed to keep him – and others like him – away from the courts.
Chaffers seems to have held a practising certificate until 1863, shortly after which he was disinherited and lost a claim against his father’s estate. He then began a series of over 100 actions against, among others, the archbishop of Canterbury, several lord chancellors and the speaker of the House of Commons.
What finally did for him was his 1894 effort to sue the Prince of Wales, as trustee of the British Museum, over the refusal of a porter to admit him. For once, he seems to have had right on his side – but it did him no good. The act followed two years later. In the meantime, he had lost a series of actions against the Independent Law Society to have him restored to practice. He defiantly ignored orders to pay the costs awarded against him and as a result spent years in a debtors’ prison.
However, Chaffers seems to have been a more than half-way decent lawyer. When at liberty, from rooms in Red Lion Court, he advised the actress and talented amateur soprano Georgina Weldon. She was a campaigner against the lunacy laws when, because of her interest in spiritualism, her husband tried to have her confined in an asylum run by the eccentric doctor Forbes Winslow. He had already banned her from appearing professionally on stage.
Aided by Chaffers, Georgina herself brought over 100 actions, many of which – including an action against her husband for the restoration of her conjugal rights – she won. She died in Brighton in 1914, fifteen years after Chaffers expired in a St Pancras workhouse.
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor