Babington, Anthony Patrick (1920–2004), judge, writer, and disability advocate, was born at 4 Mount Verdon Terrace, Cork city, on 4 April 1920, the youngest of two sons and two daughters of Oscar John Gilmore Babington (1879–1930), engineer and army officer, and his wife Annie Honor (née Wrixon), who was from a west Cork gentry family. Though Oscar Babington seems to have lived for time with his family in Passage West, Co. Cork, at the time of Anthony's birth he was employed in fortifying the Khyber Pass in India, and in 1921 he brought his wife and two youngest children out to Rawalpindi to join him. In 1925 they settled in England, purchasing a large house, Kenley Court, Surrey, but continued to visit Irish relatives for holidays; Anthony considered himself Irish at least until the late 1940s. Oscar became chairman and principal investor of a company producing an experimental device to reduce petrol consumption in cars; he also succumbed to alcoholism and ignored reports that his agent was mismanaging the family estate in Cork.
Anthony was initially educated at home by a French governess, and was sent at the age of seven as a weekly boarder to St Anselm's, an austere prep school near Kenley Court. In 1929 his father's agent committed suicide, having defrauded the Babington estate so extensively that most of it had to be sold. Oscar's death a year later revealed to his family that most of his remaining resources had been consumed by the petrol-saving device, which proved a dead loss. Kenley Court was sold at a low price, and through grinding economy Anthony was kept on at St Anselm's until the age of 13 before being sent to Reading School, rather than Eton for which he had been intended. During his four years at Reading he excelled at rowing and rugby, joined the Officer Training Corps, planned to become a barrister, as many of his ancestors had been, and dreamed of a literary career as poet, playwright, and novelist. In 1937 he left Reading and worked as a telephonist and reporter for the Press Association in London intending to combine part-time study with freelance journalism. In July 1939 he registered as a student at the Middle Temple.
Babington recalled this period as dominated by superficial pleasure-seeking, limited by his low pay and the prospect that war might soon make all plans futile. Although he went through a period of sympathy for Irish nationalism in the late 1930s, and briefly joined an anti-partition group, he never considered using his Irish birth to avoid military service, believing that Britain would be fighting for law and democracy against tyranny. After Nazi Germany annexed the Czech lands in March 1939 in violation of the Munich agreement, he joined a Territorial Army battalion of the London Irish Rifles and was mobilised on the outbreak of war. He subsequently served with the Royal Ulster Rifles, and was commissioned first lieutenant in the Dorset Regiment. After the fall of France he trained in undercover and railway sabotage operations and was posted to the Anglo–American Battle Training School in Castlewellan, Co. Down; in later life he was a member of the Special Forces Club, but was reticent about the exact nature of his actions. In 1944 he returned to his regiment, which was in the south of England preparing for D-Day. Here he developed a romantic relationship with a 19-year-old member of the Women's Royal Naval Service, whom he calls 'Emma' in his memoirs, and they became unofficially engaged.
Babington fought in the Normandy campaign, participated in the liberation of Paris and the drive towards Germany, and suffered shrapnel wounds to the thigh. On 31 October 1944, during the struggle to break through to paratroopers holding a bridgehead across the Rhine at Arnhem, he received a severe head wound and brain injury and was left for dead. One of his burial party detected faint signs of life and he was evacuated to Britain; after surgery at St Hugh's College, Oxford, it was determined that he had lost the ability to speak, read, write, and walk. His right arm was permanently paralysed but after speech therapy he recovered his other abilities, albeit with severe dysgraphia and dyslexia, a slight speech defect, and a limp. Although he initially corresponded with Emma, she found herself unable to face a meeting and broke off their engagement by letter. (For some years Babington hoped she might return to him; he later learned she had moved to Rhodesia, married unhappily, and died aged 30.)
Babington was later awarded the Croix de Guerre with gold star, but never wore it because he wished to focus on the future rather than on his former military career. He found consolation in prayer; having previously set religion to one side as something to be investigated in later life, he became a lifelong devout anglican and was later active in the church's Fellowship of Healing, a prayer group which assisted him. Determined to live as successful a life as possible, he concentrated on fulfilling his earlier ambition to become a barrister, despite warnings that his speech defect and physical debility would rule this out. He successfully concluded a law degree with the assistance of a study grant and sat examinations with the aid of an amanuensis, but the strain contributed to his developing pleurisy and tuberculosis, which required further hospitalisation.
During the ups and downs of his studies and illnesses Babington paid several recuperative visits to Ireland to explore the haunts of his past. While he believed that Ireland had been fully entitled to remain neutral he was saddened by what he saw as its provincialism and Anglophobia, sometimes directed at him personally. During treatment in a Cork city hospital he quarrelled with his physiotherapist (identifiable from his description as a daughter of Tomás MacCurtain (qv)) who told him he had no right to call himself Irish because he had fought for the traditional enemy. She subsequently apologised for this breach of professional etiquette, but Babington 'could not help thinking how tragic it was for this charming young girl to be mentally distorted by such a deep and terrible bitterness' (No memorial, 78). In a West Cork resort he struck up a happier friendship with Tom Barry (qv): 'As two old soldiers we used to swap yarns about our experiences He was particularly interested in the exploits of the special forces He told me that he had always respected the soldiers of the British army and he regretted having to fight against them' (Uncertain voyage, 258).
Babington was called to the bar in 1948, practising criminal law on the south-eastern circuit. He became a prosecuting counsel to the Post Office and occasionally represented military personnel before courts martial. In 1964 he successfully sought employment as a metropolitan stipendiary magistrate for London, deciding that he was better suited to the role of impartial arbiter than an adversarial role. He was appointed a circuit judge (1972–87), continued to sit part-time until 1993, and served on a Home Office working committee on bail (1971–3).
Babington had voted Labour in the 1945 general election but subsequently decided that its socialist policies had been overly optimistic; during the 1950s he was a member of the Liberal party in South Kensington (though declining a proposal to stand for parliament). His judicial philosophy may be described as moderately conservative. While he delighted in the traditional pageantry of the Inns, he welcomed the reform of many archaic features of the legal system (such as the abolition of capital punishment and the relaxation of the widely evaded, fault-based divorce laws). Experience of genteel poverty in his teens and of institutional life in hospital made him acutely conscious of the extent to which the upper-class judges were insulated from the life of the poorer classes who appeared before the bench, and on the advice of a senior judge he made a point of regularly visiting prisons so that he could see for himself the conditions under which prisoners lived. (He was a trustee of New Bridge (1985–2002), an organisation founded by Lord Longford (qv) to assist released prisoners.) But Babington also believed in the principle of punishment, and accepted that prisons should be unpleasant to act as a deterrent; he believed that poverty mitigated but did not abolish moral responsibility, and was horrified by romanticisation of crime and criminals (such as the widespread admiration expressed for the perpetrators of the 1963 'great train robbery'). In addition to his ordinary duties, Babington regularly served as a British representative to the International Association of Judges.
From the beginning of his legal studies Babington had supported himself by freelance journalistic work. As his law practice developed, he devoted an hour each morning to writing an account of his injuries and recovery, in the belief that this might assist others in a similar situation and assist public understanding of disability. He originally intended to publish the book anonymously, but when J. Johnston Abraham (qv) accepted it for publication in Heinemann's medical list under the title No memorial (1954) he insisted that it should appear over Babington's own name. His attempts to write fiction and drama were rejected by publishers, but he became known as a writer on legal history: The power to silence (1968) is a history of legally inflicted punishment in Britain; A house in Bow Street (1969) deals with the old Bow Street magistrates' court; The English Bastille (1971) studies prison history through the story of London's Newgate prison; The only liberty (1975) is a history of the rule of law in England. These are works of haute vulgarisation, well organised and clearly written, generally resembling a judge's summing-up from the bench.
In later years he became particularly associated with the intersection of legal and military history. The defining work here is For the sake of example (1983), a study of the execution of prisoners by court martial (1914–20). Babington was the first author to be given access to court-martial records by the Ministry of Defence; his own military experience (including dealing with soldiers suffering from battle neurosis in 1944) and knowledge of court-martial procedures convinced him that most of the trials he examined had been fatally defective in legal procedure, failed to take account of mitigating factors, and were generally biased against the defence. His research played a major role in igniting the campaign to pardon those shot as deserters in the first world war. His Shell-shock (1997) and The devil to pay (1991) are offshoots of this work; the latter is an account of the 1920 Connaught Rangers' mutiny, which effectively debunks romanticised accounts deriving from participants' recollections, and charts the changing (and opportunistic) self-presentations of the survivors into the 1960s. Babington's conservative side is displayed in Military intervention in Britain (1990), which takes seriously accounts of the 1819 Peterloo massacre that are sympathetic to the authorities, and gives some credence to official accounts of the killing of three IRA members (including Mairead Farrell (qv)) by the SAS in Gibraltar on 6 March 1988. In 2000 Babington published a full memoir, An uncertain voyage. He was a long-standing activist in the English branch of the writers' association International PEN, serving on its committee (1979–82) and as a trustee (1990–2002).
Babington became a bencher of Middle Temple in 1977 and was appointed autumn reader in 1994; as a bencher he did much to encourage overseas students at the Inn who had felt isolated. In July 1995 he was elected an honorary bencher of King's Inns, Dublin, in recognition of his longstanding work promoting links with the Irish bar through Irish barristers who for professional reasons had been called to the English bar through the Middle Temple. He died in London on 10 May 2004. He never married but in his last two decades enjoyed the companionship of the children's writer Josephine Pullein-Thompson (b. 1924), a longstanding colleague in PEN, whose devoted care helped him to cope with the physical deterioration of old age.