John Powell (judge)

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Sir John Powell

Sir John Powell (1632 or 1633 – 7 September 1696) was a Welsh judge on the Court of Common Pleas and the Court of King's Bench. He presided over the trial of the Seven Bishops in 1688.

Born in 1632 or 1633, Powell was from Pentre Meurig, Llanwrda in Carmarthenshire, Wales. He became a member of Gray's Inn in 1650, and matriculated at Jesus College, Oxford. He obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1653 and his Master of Arts degree from King's College, Cambridge in the following year.[1] He was called to the bar in 1657. Details of his legal practice are unknown until his rapid promotion in April 1686, when he became a serjeant-at-law and was then appointed as a judge of the Court of Common Pleas and knighted. He was soon asked his opinion of the decision in Godden v Hales that the king could dispense with compliance with Acts of Parliament, and he agreed with the majority view that this was permitted.[2]

He was transferred to the Court of King's Bench in 1687. In that court, he was one of the judges who imposed a fine of £30,000 upon the Earl of Devonshire, and was the presiding judge at the trial of the Seven Bishops for seditious libel. At this trial, he was opposed to the king's power to suspend laws in ecclesiastical matters, taking the view that there would be no parliament if this was allowed. As a result, he was sidelined after the trial ended in July 1688, returning to the post of a judge of the Court of Common Pleas in 1689 after the Glorious Revolution. He was summonsed to the House of Lords to explain the fine imposed on the Earl of Devonshire, which was said to be a violation of the principles of Magna Carta and of the privileges of the peers. He asked the pardon of the House, saying that he had been misled by some books that he looked upon as authorities.

Powell died on 7 September 1696 in Exeter and was buried near Laugharne in Carmarthenshire.[2]


  1. ^ So the ODNB. For reservations about this identification, see "Powell, John (PWL664J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ a b Handley, Stuart (January 2008). "Powell, Sir John (1632/3–1696)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2009-01-27.