At a special time in William Garrow’s career, the first few months of 1817, William Wilberforce asks a special favor of Garrow. He requests Garrow to defend John Hatchard on the charge of libel for actions he has taken as publisher of material for the African Institute. It is thought to be the last time in his long career that Garrow serves as defense counsel, the role he pioneered in the English legal system.
William Wilberforce was one of the leading English abolitionists. He headed the parliamentary campaign against the British slave trade for twenty-six years until the passage of the Slave Trade Act of 1807, and continued throughtout his life to fight the institution of slavery. The African Institute’s materials served as a voice for the anti-slavery forces in England, and the plantation owners were fighting back. It is interesting to observe that Wilberforce wants Garrow, in his private capacity, to defend Hatchard, even though Garrow, as Attorney General and lead prosecutor for the Crown, would normally prosecute in a case of the King v. John Hatchard. Garrow chooses to assist in the defense of Hatchard.