Hartley Shawcross

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Shawcross
President of the Board of Trade
In office
24 April – 26 October 1951
Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Preceded by Harold Wilson
Succeeded by Peter Thorneycroft
Attorney General
In office
4 August 1945 – 24 April 1951
Prime Minister Clement Attlee
Preceded by Sir David Maxwell Fyfe
Succeeded by Sir Frank Soskice

Hartley William Shawcross, Baron Shawcross GBE PC QC (4 February 1902 – 10 July 2003), known from 1945 to 1959 as Sir Hartley Shawcross, 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 the University of Geneva[1] and sat for the Bar at Gray's Inn, where he won first-class honours.


He joined the Labour Party at a young age and served as Member of Parliament for St Helens, Lancashire 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,",[2] a phrase that came to haunt him.

As Attorney-General, he prosecuted William Joyce ("Lord Haw-Haw") and John Amery for treason, 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 upon his appointment as Attorney-General[3] 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 14 February 1959 as Baron Shawcross, of Friston in the County of Sussex,[4] 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, the 'Floorcross' nickname in the end rang true.

During the committal hearing for the suspected serial killer Dr John Bodkin Adams in January 1957, he was seen dining with the defendant's suspected lover, Sir Roland Gwynne (Mayor of Eastbourne from 1929 to 1931), and the Lord Chief Justice, Rayner Goddard, at a hotel in Lewes.[5] The meeting added to concerns that the Adams trial was the subject of concerted judicial and political interference.

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.

He was the President of the charity Attend[6] (then National Association of Leagues of Hospital Friends) from 1962–1972.

In the 1974 New Year Honours Lord Shawcross was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE).[7]

Defending press freedom

In 1961 he was appointed the chairman of the second Royal Commission on the Press. In 1967 he became one of the directors of The Times responsible for ensuring its editorial independence. He resigned on being appointed chairman of the Press Council in 1974. From 1974 to 1978 he was chairman of the Press Council and is described as "forthright in his condemnation both of journalists who committed excesses and of proprietors who profited from them" and as a "doughty defender of press freedom".[8] In October 1974 he poured scorn on a Labour Party pamphlet that recommended the application of "internal democracy" to editorial policy, saying "This means that... there would be some sort of committee consisting at the best of a mixture of van drivers, press operators, electricians and the rest, with no doubt a few journalists, but more probably composed of trade union officials, to deal with editorial policy."[8]

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, Soviet 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's advocacy was instrumental in obtaining convictions against the remaining Nazi leadership, on grounds which were perceived as fair and lawful.[citation needed]


Lord Shawcross was married three times. His first wife Alberta Rosita Shyvers (m. 24 May 1924) suffered from multiple sclerosis and committed suicide on 30 December 1943.

His second wife Joan Winifred Mather (m. 21 September 1944) died in a riding accident on the Sussex Downs on 26 January 1974. He had two sons, the author and historian William Shawcross and Hume Shawcross, and a daughter, Dr Joanna Shawcross, by his second wife.

At the age of 95 he married Mrs. Susanne Monique Huiskamp on 18 April 1997 in Gibraltar.

He died at home at Cowbeech, East Sussex at the age of 101. Lady Shawcross died on 2 March 2013.[9]


Arms of Hartley Shawcross
Upon the Battlements of a Tower proper a Martlet Gules holding in the beak a Cross Paty fitchy Or
Per pale Azure and Gules on a Saltire between four Annulets Argent an Ermine Spot Sable
Dexter: a Lion Argent gorged with a Chain Sable pendant therefrom an Escutcheon also Sable charged with a Balance Or; Sinister: a Griffin Sable armed and langued Azure gorged with a Chain pendent therefrom a Portcullis Or


  1. Hartley William Shawcross, Baron Shawcross. thePeerage.com. Retrieved 19 July 2010.
  2. 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.
  3. The London Gazette: no. 37243. p. 4345. 28 August 1945.
  4. The London Gazette: no. 41637. p. 1164. 17 February 1959.
  5. Cullen, Pamela V. (2006). A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams. London: Elliott & Thompson. ISBN 1-904027-19-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. http://www.attend.org.uk/about-us/people-we-honour-0/attend-vips
  7. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 46162. p. 7. 1 January 1974.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Obituaries: Lord Shawcross". The Telegraph. 11 July 2003. Retrieved 17 July 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Peerage News: The Baroness Shawcross".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Shawcross, H. (1995). Life Sentence. London: Constable. ISBN 0-09-474980-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
William Albert Robinson
Member of Parliament for St Helens
Succeeded by
Leslie Spriggs
Legal offices
Preceded by
Sir David Maxwell Fyfe
Attorney General for England and Wales
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Sir Frank Soskice
Political offices
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Harold Wilson
President of the Board of Trade
April–October 1951
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Peter Thorneycroft
Media offices
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Edward Pearce
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Patrick Neill
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The Lord Balfour of Inchrye
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