Hughes, Hector Samuel James (1887–1970), barrister and politician, was born 14 August 1887 in Dublin, eldest son of Alexander Wilson Hughes, a law clerk, of Beach House, Sandymount, and Elizabeth Anne Hughes (née Dempsey). Educated as a boy chorister at the diocesan school of St Ann's church, Dawson St., and St Andrew's College, he was obliged to take a job as an office boy in a solicitor's office at the age of fourteen. Despite this setback he continued his education in his free time, and some years later passed the civil service examinations to become a copying clerk. Attending lectures in law at TCD, he entered the King's Inns in Michaelmas 1912 to study for the bar, during which time he became involved in the labour movement and helped James Larkin (qv) with organisation during the unrest of 1913.
He was called to the bar in Trinity term 1915, and the following year published Select cases in registration of title in Ireland (1916), the first of his many legal commentaries. A founder member of the Irish Socialist Party (1918), the James Connolly Memorial College, and the Irish Co-op Press (1920), from 1920 he concentrated on building up his legal practice as nationalism pushed socialism off the agenda of Irish politics. In 1920 Austin Stack (qv) appointed Hughes to a committee of lawyers to draw up rules for the dáil courts.
From 1918 Hughes spent much time in England, where he became involved in the Labour party, most notably by assisting Arthur Henderson in his election campaigns at Widnes (1918, 1922). In 1923 he was called to the English bar by Gray's Inns; in the same year he published The Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest (Restrictions) Act, 1923 (1923). Four years later (21 November 1927) he took silk in Ireland and published The land acts 1923–7. In 1928 he published National sovereignty and judicial autonomy in the British commonwealth of nations.
After he took silk in Ireland, his English practice developed. His first notable case in England was in 1929, when he appeared as junior counsel for retired members of the RIC, claiming that there was a shortfall of £625,000 a year in the total pension paid by the British government. Hughes took silk in England just three years later (1932) and in December 1938 led an English probate case in which the plaintiff and executor was Éamon de Valera (qv). The testator was Polly Mary Fitzpatrick, who had left her house and contents to de Valera, but the veracity of the will was contested by her brother, for whom Hughes acted. De Valera was ultimately successful and the will was granted.
Despite his heavy case load Hughes remained actively involved in politics for most of his life. In 1923 he unsuccessfully contested Wexford as an independent candidate in the general election, winning only 330 first-preference votes. After visiting Russia for a fortnight in 1931, he unsuccessfully contested his first parliamentary election for the British Labour Party in the then conservative stronghold of West Camberwell. In 1935 he was once again unsuccessful, this time in North-West Camberwell. He resigned from the Labour party in October 1938 owing to his support for Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. His spell outside the party was a short one, and back in the fold he was elected MP for North Aberdeen (1945–70). At Westminster he was a popular, energetic, and useful MP who had a hearty appetite for legal and procedural wrangling. He had a comically pompous manner and delighted in putting difficult legal points to harassed ministers at question time. He spoke on a broad range of subjects that included war risk insurance, the African colonies, and the death penalty, and also wrote frequent letters to The Times. His letter (published 5 November 1947) on the death penalty arguing that the law should recognise different degrees of murder sparked considerable debate, and in December 1949 he appeared before the royal commission on capital punishment as one of three expert witnesses (the others being Lord Justice Denning and Basil Nield, KC).
Hughes was a member of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland from 25 March 1926, to which in December 1926 he read a paper entitled ‘Workmen's compensation: some suggested reforms’. In England he was a member of the Fabian Society (from 1929), the Haldane Club of socialist lawyers (from 1931), and the Middle Temple (from February 1932), and was vice-president (1939) of the Four Provinces of Ireland Club. A committee member of the British–American parliamentary group, he visited Canada (1952), Nigeria, Malta, and Gibraltar (1957) as a member of various parliamentary delegations. In 1963 he suffered two seizures but resisted suggestions that he retire. In his last years as an MP he frequently, though unsuccessfully, called for the British government to arrange joint meetings with the governments of Ireland and Northern Ireland. On 30 April 1968 he was fined £10 for stealing three books from a Victoria Station bookstall, but the conviction was later overturned on appeal. Having announced in June 1967 that he would not stand as a parliamentary candidate in the next election, he retired from public life before the British general election of 1970.
A strongly religious man, he was a board member of the Church Army for many years, took an active part in the work of the Salvation Army, and was very interested in the growth of the ‘moral rearmament’ movement. A keen swimmer throughout his long life, he also rode in the Irish Grand National as a young man and was placed fifth. In 1957, on Ghana's gaining independence, Hughes, a member of the Ghana bar from 1952, wrote a national anthem, ‘Ghana arise’, and also had several poems published for the occasion. In 1966 he lived at 114 South Hill Park, Hampstead, London, but later moved to Brighton. He died 23 June 1970 after getting into difficulty while swimming at Brighton. Ironically, he had been president of the National Council for Education in Swimming. His estate was valued at £34,784.
His first wife Isa, was a long-time secretary of the Gate Theatre, Dublin; they had two daughters. After being a widower for many years he married (October 1966) Mrs Elsa Lilian Riley, a septuagenarian widow from Brighton, who had children from her previous marriage.