Much of the work of Judge James Kingham, who served on the circuit bench from 1973 to 1990, involved him with children's cases, and he devoted a large proportion of his spare time to the concerns of young people, especially in the Venture Scout movement.
He sat mainly as a judge of Luton county court, but also enjoyed his spells hearing criminal cases at the Crown Court in Bedford. Wardship cases were theoretically heard in the High Court, but because of a chronic shortage of judges there, many of them were heard by circuit judges sitting as High Court judges. Kingham spent much of his time hearing wardship cases until the Children Act of 1989 came into force in 1991. Luton then became a care centre under the Act and he became the designated judge for all classes of children's cases. He was an ideal choice for this kind of work for two reasons. One was his extensive experience of such disputes; the other that his adult life had been largely dedicated to young people.
Kingham was a keen scouter and for 40 years took parties of Venture Scouts climbing in Britain and abroad. He loved the mountains and was a great believer in their character-building properties. After a visit to Pentonville prison and Caynes Hall Borstal he took young offenders with him on occasion. He was a practising Christian with a strong sense of social justice; his family home was always available for young people with problems. His youth work was recognised by his being appointed a Deputy-Lieutenant of Hertfordshire in 1989.
Kingham was educated at Wycliffe College and Queens' College, Cambridge, where he read history and law. He served in the Royal Navy from 1943 to 1947 and was a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm, serving eventually with the Pacific Fleet.
He was called to the Bar by Gray's Inn in 1951, and after his year's pupillage was accepted as a tenant by a London divorce and probate set. The busiest practitioner was Clyde Marshall Reynolds, whose solicitor clients were soon happy to instruct the new young man for matrimonial cases in the lower courts. His competence, coupled with his charm, led to their trying him out in other small civil cases and then in criminal ones as well. Before long Kingham was busy in all kinds of work, both in London and, increasingly, in Bedford and Luton, on the old Midland Circuit.
Members of the Bar Council, the profession's ruling body, were largely elected by the block votes of the circuits. Some of the younger members of the Bar felt that their voice was not adequately heard, and they considered how best to get one of their number elected. They sensibly decided that James Kingham, with his many friends from Cambridge and Gray's Inn, would be their strongest candidate. He was duly elected for two years in 1954, and re-elected for a further two in 1956. He was also made a member of the executive committee. When the American Bar Association held its annual meeting in London in 1957, Kingham made more friends. When the association invited the Bar Council to sent two of its number on a return visit to the United States, the Council chose Harry Hylton-Foster QC (later Speaker of the House of Commons) and Kingham.
Kingham's first judicial experience was as one of the deputies of Anthony Cripps QC, the Recorder of Nottingham, in 1966. He sat as a deputy recorder until the introduction of the Crown Court on 1 January 1972. He then became a new-style Recorder, and was promoted to be a circuit judge in the following year.
He retired from the bench as soon as he reached 65, choosing to undertake other work. He was delighted when he was given the opportunity to teach at Cambridge, and found himself much in demand as a law lecturer elsewhere too. He served on the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board from 1990 and latterly on the Parole Board. He had never been busier in his life, but he was happy that way.
In 1986 he had a serious climbing accident in Scotland, but he recovered almost fully. He resumed his climbing, ski-ing and squash. On most mornings he went jogging with one of his sons-in-law. There can have been few men of 69 - or even 39 - who were as fit as James Kingham. Physical fitness was all-important to him. He would not have liked getting old and unfit. He died in a collision on the road to Cambridge, where he was going to teach.