Richard Wilberforce, Baron Wilberforce

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Wilberforce
Lord of Appeal in Ordinary
In office
Personal details
Born 11 March 1907
Died 15 February 2003 (aged 95)
Nationality English
Alma mater New College, Oxford
Profession Barrister, Judge

Richard Orme Wilberforce, Baron Wilberforce CMG OBE PC (11 March 1907 – 15 February 2003), was a British judge, most notable for his report into coal miners' pay.[1]


Richard Wilberforce was a great-great-grandson of the famous abolitionist William Wilberforce, and son of Samuel, a judge of the Lahore High Court.[a] His mother Katherine was the daughter of John Sheepshanks, Bishop of Norwich. He was born in Jullundur, India and attended Norwich School, Sandroyd School, Winchester College and New College, Oxford, and was later elected a Prize Fellow of All Souls College.[2] He also won the Eldon Scholarship at Oxford.[3] He was called to the Bar in 1932 and became a Queen's Counsel in 1954.

During World War II, Wilberforce served in the British Army, fighting in the Norwegian Campaign before being posted to the War Office. In 1944 he was attached to the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force. He ended the War with the honorary rank of Brigadier. For his wartime service, Wilberforce was appointed an OBE and received the American Bronze Star.

After the War, Wilberforce returned to the bar. He appeared in a number of high-profile International Court of Justice cases, such as the Corfu Channel case and the Norwegian Fisheries case. He was appointed a CMG in 1956.

In the 1950 election, he stood for Kingston upon Hull Central as the Conservative candidate, but lost.

Judicial career[edit]

Wilberforce was appointed to the High Court and assigned to the Chancery Division in 1961, receiving the customary knighthood. He was elevated to the House of Lords as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 1964, and was made a life peer as Baron Wilberforce, of the City and County of Kingston-upon-Hull. He is the only England and Wales judge in recent times to have been appointed to the House of Lords straight from the High Court Bench, without serving in the Court of Appeal.

His decisions were known for being reserved and cautious. He served as a Law Lord for 18 years, and heard 465 appeals.

Wilberforce was Chancellor of the University of Hull between 1978 and 1994.

Famous judgments[edit]

Wilberforce gave many important and prescient judgments, including in the following cases:


  • with Alan Campbell and Neil Elles, The Law of Restrictive Practices and Monopolies (2nd edn London, Sweet and Maxwell 1966) LCCN 66-70116
  • Law and economics: Being the presidential address of the Rt. Hon. Lord Wilberforce (Holdsworth Club 1966)


  1. ^ Samuel was himself a grandson of Samuel Wilberforce through his second son Reginald.


  1. ^ Hansard
  2. ^ Richard Orme Wilberforce (2003). Reflections on My Life. Roundtuit Publishing. pp. 10–22. ISBN 1-904499-03-1. 
  3. ^ "Eldon Scholarship Award Holders since 1919". Oxford University. 

External links[edit]