Somerset’s case caused an immediate sensation. Unlike many earlier cases involving slaves, it was reported relatively quickly in a reputable series of law reports – those of Capel Lofft, a barrister who had joined the Inn in 1770. This was of great assistance to the abolitionist movement, by providing lawyers with an authoritative source to replace press reports and manuscripts notes of the judgment. Legal historians in the 20th century questioned the accuracy of Lofft’s report, suspecting that he overstated Mansfield’s remarks as a means of serving his own abolitionist views. An analysis of Lofft’s report and manuscript and newspaper accounts of the trial confirm that Lofft had not elaborated the operative part of the judgment.
Capel Lofft (1751-1824) was a member of Lincoln’s Inn (admitted in 1770 and Called to the Bar in 1775) whose writings promoted legal, constitutional and religious reform.