Cohen was born in Port Macquarie, New South Wales, the second son of Abraham Cohen of Sydney, and entered as a student at the Middle Temple in October 1868. In June 1871 he was called to the English bar, and returned to Sydney, where he was admitted to the local bar.
On 21 December 1874 Cohen was elected for West Maitland in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly. He was Colonial Treasurer in the James Farnell Ministry from December 1877 to December 1878. In May 1881 he was appointed District Court Judge for the Sydney Metropolitan and Coast District, but resigned the position, and re-entered politics, being Minister of Justice in the Alexander Stuart Cabinet from January 1883 to October 1885.
Cohen was appointed acting judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales on 19 July 1895, and in 1896 accepted an offer of a permanent position on the bench. Cohen was inaugural president of the Arbitration Court, 1 April 1902 to 3 July 1905.
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