Hartley Shawcross: Wikis


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Hartley William Shawcross, Baron Shawcross, GBE, PC, KC (4 February 1902 – 10 July 2003) was a British barrister and politician and the lead British prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes tribunal.


Early life

Hartley William Shawcross was born to John and Hilda Shawcross in Germany, whilst his father was teaching English at Giessen University. He was educated at Dulwich College, the London School of Economics and University of Geneva and sat for the Bar at Gray's Inn, where he won first-class honours. He was the youngest man ever to be made King's Counsel.


He joined Labour at a young age, and served as Member of Parliament for St Helens from 1945 to 1958, holding the position of Attorney-General from 1945 to 1951. It was in 1946 when debating the repeal of anti-Union laws in the House of Commons that Shawcross allegedly said "We are the masters now,"[1], a phrase that came to haunt him.

As Attorney-General, he prosecuted William Joyce ("Lord Haw-Haw") and John Amery for treason and also prosecuted Klaus Fuchs and Alan Nunn May, for giving atomic secrets to the Soviet Union and John George Haigh, known as 'the acid bath murderer'. He was knighted in 1945 and named Chief Prosecutor for the United Kingdom at Nuremberg. From 1945 to 1949, he was Britain's principal United Nations delegate, though he was recalled in 1948 to lead for the government's interest at the Lynskey tribunal. In 1951, he briefly served as President of the Board of Trade until the Labour government's defeat in the election of that year. He ended his law career the same year, and was expected to become a Tory earning him the nickname "Sir Shortly Floorcross". Instead, he resigned from Parliament in 1958, saying he was tired of party politics. He was made one of Britain's first life peers on February 14, 1959 as Baron Shawcross,[2] of Friston in the County of Sussex, and sat in the House of Lords as a cross-bencher. Because of this change of loyalties away from Labour, his many business interests and, much later, his support for the Social Democratic Party (UK), the 'Floorcross' nickname in the end rang true.

In 1957, he was among a group of eminent British lawyers who founded JUSTICE, the human rights and law reform organisation and he became its first chairman - a position he held until 1972.

He was also instrumental in the foundation of the University of Sussex and served as chancellor of the university from 1965 to 1985.


Lord Shawcross was married three times. His first wife Alberta Rosita Shyvers (m. May 24, 1924) suffered from multiple sclerosis and committed suicide on December 30, 1943. His second wife Joan Winifred Mather (m. September 21, 1944) died in a riding accident on the Sussex Downs on January 26, 1974. At the age of 95 he married Mrs. Susanne Monique Huiskamp on April 18, 1997 in Gibraltar.

He had two sons, the author and historian William Shawcross, Hume Shawcross, and a daughter, Dr Joanna Shawcross, by his second wife. He died at home at Cowbeech, East Sussex at the age of 101.

Shawcross and the Nuremberg Trials

Shawcross's advocacy before the Nuremberg Trial was passionate. His most famous line was:

"There comes a point when a man must refuse to answer to his leader if he is also to answer to his own conscience."

He avoided the crusading style of American, Russian and French prosecutors. Shawcross's opening speech, which lasted two days, sought to undermine any belief that the Nuremberg Trials were victor's justice (an exacted vengeance against defeated foes). Instead, he focused on the rule of law and he demonstrated that the laws that the defendants had broken, expressed in international treaties and agreements, were those to which pre-war Germany had been a party. In his closing speech, he ridiculed any notion that any of the defendants could have remained ignorant of the thousands of Germans exterminated because they were old or mentally ill. He used the same argument for the millions of other people "annihilated in the gas chambers or by shooting" and he maintained that each of the 22 defendants was a party to "common murder in its most ruthless forms".

Thus Shawcross' advocacy was instrumental in obtaining convictions against the remaining Nazi leadership, on grounds which were perceived as fair and lawful.



Bodkin Adams case

During the committal hearing for the suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams in February 1957, Shawcross was seen dining with the defendant's lover, Roland Gwynne, at the White Hart Hotel in Lewes[3]. They were accompanied by Lord Chief Justice Goddard, who had already selected Patrick Devlin as judge for Adams' trial and then later phoned Devlin while the jury was considering its verdict, to recommend that Adams was given bail before a second trial for another count of murder. While driving home afterwards, Gwynne crashed his car. He hadn't been drinking. Adams was acquitted but was suspected by police of killing 163 of his patients.

Later, on 10 May 1957, Goddard heard a contempt of court case against Newsweek and W. H. Smith. On April 1 during Adams' trial, they had respectively published and distributed an issue of the magazine containing two paragraphs of material "highly prejudicial to the accused", saying that Adams' victim count could be "as high as 400". Each company was fined £50. Goddard made no mention of his conflict of interest.[3]

Other cases

During a rent tribunal case he referred to certain workers as "six black niggers".[4]


  1. ^ This is the wording usually quoted, and is attested by eyewitness Lord Bruce in a New Statesman article, but it is still a matter of dispute. For full details see Wikiquote, Hartley Shawcross, Baron Shawcross.
  2. ^ Obituary: Lord Shawcross | Independent, The (London) | Find Articles at BNET.com
  3. ^ a b Cullen, Pamela V., "A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams", London, Elliott & Thompson, 2006, ISBN 1-904027-19-9, P.633
  4. ^ Obituary: Lord Shawcross | Independent, The (London) | Find Articles at BNET.com


  • Shawcross, H. (1995). Life Sentence. London: Constable. ISBN 0094749809.  

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Albert Robinson
Member of Parliament for St Helens
Succeeded by
Leslie Spriggs
Legal offices
Preceded by
David Maxwell Fyfe
Attorney General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Sir Frank Soskice
Political offices
Preceded by
Harold Wilson
President of the Board of Trade
Succeeded by
Peter Thorneycroft
Media offices
Preceded by
Edward Pearce
Chairman of the Press Council
Succeeded by
Patrick Neill


Up to date as of January 14, 2010
(Redirected to Hartley Shawcross, Baron Shawcross article)

From Wikiquote

There comes a point when a man must refuse to answer to his leader if he is also to answer to his own conscience.

Hartley William Shawcross, Baron Shawcross (4 February 190210 July 2003) was a British barrister and politician, probably most famous for his role as the lead British prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes tribunal.


  • There comes a point when a man must refuse to answer to his leader if he is also to answer to his own conscience.
  • We are the masters at the moment and shall be for some considerable time.
    • Statement made in a 1945 debate to repeal the Conservatives' "Trade Disputes Act" of 1927 (following a quotation from Through the Looking-Glass in which Humpty-Dumpty observed that the question of definitions of words depended upon who was master). This has often been misquoted as "We are the masters now." His obituary in The Times (11 July 2003) states "even if in its authentic form it was intended as a factual description rather than a boast, it did Shawcross a good deal of harm. It was certainly uncharacteristic, for he was neither a bully nor a zealot... he was hardly a fierce party warrior." The Independent [London] (11 July 2003) in its obituary states "he accepted that it was one of the most foolish things he ever said." However, an article in the New Statesman disputed the Times' obituary, citing eyewitness Lord Bruce in support of the wording, "We are the masters now", and noting a third version in Hansard.
  • Let us not foist this humbug on the world.
  • All my moves were designed to promote the happiness and wellbeing of my family, rather than fame.
  • I know that in my public life I fell below the standards that I had set myself... I have seen what is wrong but not done enough to put it right. I have been more critical than correct. I have had opportunities of great positions in the service of the state, but I have put them aside. I know that I have not devoted myself enough to promoting the good of others.
    • As quoted in The Times (11 July 2003)
  • Getting up and criticising the other fellow because he's in and you are not seems to me a futile waste of time. Especially as you know in your heart that you would be doing more or less the same thing if you were in his place.
    • On his distaste for opposition politics, in an interview with Tom Stacey for the Daily Express, as quoted in The Independent (11 July 2003)


  • The new so called morality has too often the old immorality condoned.

External links


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