Lawson, James Anthony (1817–87), judge and economist, was born 10 February 1817, the eldest son of James Lawson of Waterford and his wife Mary Anthony. After initial education in Waterford, he entered TCD in October 1833, became a scholar in 1836, and graduated BA (1838). Admitted to the King's Inns, Dublin (1837) and Gray's Inn (1838), he was called to the Irish bar in 1840. Receiving an LLB (1841) from TCD, he was appointed Whately professor of political economy (1841–6), and subsequently graduated LLD (1850). In January 1857 he was made a queen's counsel and served as law advisor to the crown in Ireland (1858–9). He also stood as a liberal for Dublin University in the general election of April 1857, but was not elected.
In 1861 he was elected bencher of the King's Inns, and appointed solicitor-general for Ireland. He later served as attorney general (1865–6) and was involved in the suppression of the Fenian newspaper, the Irish People, in September 1865 and the prosecution of the movement's leaders. He was elected liberal MP for Portarlington in 1865 but lost his seat in the November 1868 general election. In December 1868 he became a justice of the common pleas and in July 1869 a commissioner of the Church of Ireland. Appointed to the privy council in 1870, he became a commissioner of the great seal in 1874. Throughout his judicial career he presided at several political trials and gained a reputation for dealing severely with Land Leaguers and Fenians. In June 1882 he transferred to the queen's bench and the following August presided at the first special commission set up by the coercive legislation passed after the Phoenix Park murders of May 1882. After a report appeared in the Freeman's Journal criticising the composition and conduct of the special commission's jury, Lawson summoned the paper's editor, Edmund William Dwyer Gray (qv), home rule MP for Co. Carlow, before the court and sentenced him to three months imprisonment and a fine of £500 for contempt. The nationalist press was outraged, and after a public outcry Gray was released after just six weeks.
Lawson's reputation as an anti-nationalist brought him to the attention of the Invincibles, the group responsible for the Phoenix Park murders. On 11 November 1882, while walking in Kildare St, he was almost assassinated by Patrick Delaney (qv), an Invincible. Delaney, however, was overpowered by Lawson's bodyguard and later convicted of conspiracy to murder.
An authority on economic and legal matters, Lawson published Five lectures on political economy (1844), Reports of cases in the high court of chancery of Ireland during the time of Lord Chancellor Sugden (1844) (with Henry Connor), Duties and obligations involved in mercantile relations (1855) and Speech at the election for members to serve in parliament for the University of Dublin (1857). Elected MRIA (1857), he was also vice-president of the Dublin Statistical Society and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Oxford (1885). He died 10 August 1887 at Shankill, Co. Dublin, and was buried in Deansgrange cemetery. In 1842 he married Jane Merrick of Cork, with whom he had children.