Phillips, Charles (1786–1859), barrister and author, was born in Stephen St., Sligo, son of William Phillips, member of Sligo corporation and tax collector, and Elizabeth Phillips (née Johnson) of Co. Fermanagh. Educated locally at the school of the Rev. James Armstrong, rector of St John's, Sligo, he entered TCD (1802), graduating BA (1806), distinguishing himself as an orator, and winning the College Historical Society medal for oratory. In 1806 he entered King's Inns, Dublin, as a student, and the following year the Middle Temple. Called to the Irish bar (1812), he practised on the Connacht circuit and soon established a reputation as a successful, if somewhat verbose, advocate. He was involved in a number of high-profile cases and assisted Daniel O'Connell (qv) in the King vs. Magee case of 1813. Although a protestant, he was an ardent campaigner for catholic emancipation and often spoke with O'Connell at public meetings. In 1813 he was publicly thanked by the Catholic Board and presented with a testimonial, and addressed the emancipation meeting in Dublin in 1814.
In March 1817 he represented the ‘Widow Wilkens’ in the celebrated Blake vs. Wilkens breach of promise case. He successfully defended his client by adopting an unusual line of defence. Elaborating at length on her age and physical imperfections, he stated that his client had simply not taken the plaintiff's offer of marriage seriously. Despite having won the case, the widow was so incensed by Phillips's remarks that she confronted him on the courthouse steps armed with a horsewhip and pursued him through the streets of Galway.
In 1818 he considered standing as a candidate for Sligo but decided against doing so, outlining his reasons in a pamphlet, An address to the electors of County Sligo. Called to the English bar (1821), he thenceforth practiced as a criminal counsel in England, defending cases in the Old Bailey and on the Middlesex and Oxford circuits. He established a reputation as a leading Old Bailey counsel but, due to his over-elaborate style of oration, was soon nicknamed ‘Counsellor O'Garnish’. Some time after moving to London, he married a Miss Whalley of Camden Town. In May 1840 he defended Courvoisier, the Swiss valet who was accused of murdering his master, Lord William Russell. It was generally agreed that his unsuccessful defence of Courvoisier was conducted in an improper manner, as he tried to place the blame for the crime on another party. Reported to have declined to take silk and a judicial post in Calcutta, in 1842 he was appointed by Lord Brougham as a commissioner of the bankruptcy court in Liverpool. In 1846 he became commissioner of the insolvent debtors court in London.
Alongside his legal career he wrote prose, poetry, legal speeches, and political tracts. His published works, which were numerous, included The consolations of Erin: a poem (1811), The loves of Celestine and St Aubert; a romantic tale (1811), A speech, Guthrie v. Sterne for adultery (1815), Two speeches on the catholic question (1816), and Recollections on John Philpot Curran and some of his contemporaries (1818). In 1820 he published The queen's case stated in an address to the king, a defence of Queen Caroline of Brunswick which ran to over twenty editions in the year of publication. While many of his works enjoyed great popularity, his over-embroidered style of oration was reflected in his writings, some of which were severely criticised in journals such as the Edinburgh Review and Blackwood's Magazine. His conduct in the defence of Courvoisier returned to haunt him in 1849 when the subject was raised by Samuel Warren in a letter to the Examiner newspaper. Phillips defended himself in letters to the Examiner and The Times, and later published Correspondence between Samuel Warren, esq., and Charles Phillips, esq., relative to the trial of Courvoisier (1849). His last publication was an argument against capital punishment, Vacation thoughts on capital punishment (1857). He died at Golden Square, London, on 1 February 1859 and was buried in Highgate cemetery.