Peter Rawlinson, Baron Rawlinson of Ewell

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Peter Anthony Grayson Rawlinson, Baron Rawlinson of Ewell, PC, QC (26 June 1919 – 28 June 2006) was an English barrister, politician and author. He was Conservative Member of Parliament for Epsom for 23 years, from 1955 to 1978, and held the offices of Solicitor General (1962–1964) and Attorney General for England and Wales (1970–1974) and for Northern Ireland (1972–1974). Had he been appointed Lord Chancellor, as seemed likely during the mid-1970s, he would have been the first Roman Catholic to hold that position since Thomas More in 1532.

Early and private life[edit]

Rawlinson was born on 26 June 1919, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel A.R. Rawlinson, OBE, a figure in military intelligence and a screenwriter in the cinema.

He was educated by Benedictines at Downside, near Bath, and read Law at Christ's College, Cambridge, where he joined Footlights and was later elected as an Honorary Fellow in 1981. However, he only completed one year at university moving to Sandhurst on the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. He joined the Irish Guards in 1940, where he remained until he was demobilized as a Major in 1946, having been Mentioned in Despatches in 1943.

He was twice married:

  1. Haidee Kavanagh (1940–1954) (three daughters); (marriage dissolved and annulled by Sacred Rota, Rome 1954)
  2. Elaine Dominguez (1954–2006) (two sons and one daughter)

He was also an author, having published a book of poetry in 1943, his autobiography in 1989, books on themes inspired by his Catholic faith, and several novels on legal themes; one, Hatred and Contempt, won the Rumpole Award. He also enjoyed landscape painting and the theatre. He was a member of White's and the Marylebone Cricket Club, the Vice-President of the Royal Automobile Club, and President of the Friends of London Oratory from 1980 to 1995. He was also a director of Daily Telegraph plc.

Legal and political career[edit]

Rawlinson was called to the bar at Inner Temple in 1946, just before he left the Army. He later became a Bencher in 1962 and was Treasurer in 1984. He joined the chambers of Walter Monckton. The first of his cases that came to public attention was that of Alfred Charles Whiteway, in the Towpath murder case in 1953, in which he was junior counsel. He subjected the leading police murder squad detective, Herbert Hannam, to a searching cross-examination over 2 days, which exposed substantial gaps in Hannam's account of a confession by Whiteway. Whiteway was convicted and hanged, but Rawlinson was instructed in other well-known cases. He was also a junior counsel in the unsuccessful defence of Peter Wildeblood, tried with Edward Montagu and Michael Pitt-Rivers for gross indecency in 1954. A year later in 1955, he was junior counsel for Melford Stevenson in the defence of Ruth Ellis, who was hanged. He also acted in defence of General Anders in a libel case.

He became a Queen's Counsel in England in 1959. He was Recorder of Salisbury from 1960 to 1962, and Recorder of Kingston upon Thames from 1975 to 2002. He was Leader of the Western Circuit from 1975 to 1982. In 1965, he defended the Daily Express in an action relating to D-Notices, and he defended the Daily Mail in a libel action brought by the Unification Church in 1980, and retired from practice at the bar in 1985, but was President of the Senate of Inns of Court and the Bar from 1986 to 1987. He was also an Honorary Member of the American Bar Association, and an Honorary Fellow of the American College Trial Lawyers.

A member of the Conservative Party, he stood as a Parliamentary candidate for Hackney South in the 1951 general election, losing comfortably to the Labour incumbent, Herbert Butler. He was elected in the 1955 general election, for the safe Conservative seat of Epsom, and held the seat until it was abolished at the February 1974 general election. He was re-elected for the new Epsom and Ewell seat, which he held until his ennoblement in 1978.

He was appointed Solicitor-General by Harold Macmillan in June 1962,[1] following the Night of the Long Knives, receiving the customary knighthood,[2] and served through the prosecution of the spy John Vassall (and subsequent resignation of a junior minister, Tam Galbraith) and the Profumo affair, in which his offer to resign was declined.

He became a Privy Councillor in 1964, and remained on the front benches in opposition, after the government lost the 1964 general election, but returned to the back benches after unsuccessfully supporting Reginald Maudling as new party leader. From the back benches, he led the opposition to the abolition of the death penalty. He served as Attorney General during the government of Edward Heath, from 1970 to 1974. Unusually, he conducted many prosecutions in person, including that of the Hosein brothers for kidnapping and murdering Muriel McKay (whom they had mistaken for Rupert Murdoch's wife).

He appeared before the House of Lords, arguing that The Times was in contempt of court in publishing details of the cases involving thalidomide, which drew the ire, in particular, of Bernard Levin, who wrote that he appeared to want the law to be administered in private. He also prosecuted IRA members for bombings in London and Aldershot. In 1972, when the Stormont Parliament was suspended, he also became Attorney General for Northern Ireland, and so was called to the bar and became a QC in Northern Ireland that year. He was a target of the Angry Brigade, which attempted to bomb his house several times.

He retired from the House of Commons in 1978, and was created a life peer on 17 April 1978 as Baron Rawlinson of Ewell, of Ewell in the County of Surrey.[3] He harboured hopes of being appointed Lord Chancellor or Lord Chief Justice (the law having been changed in 1974 to permit a Roman Catholic to take the former position, widely seen at the time as a measure to permit Rawlinson to take the job) but his politics diverged from those of the new Conservative leader, Margaret Thatcher, and he was never offered either position. In the Lords, he supported restrictions on abortion and divorce, and resisted the introduction of conditional fees in legal cases.

Publications[edit]

  • War Poems and Poetry 1943
  • Public Duty and Personal Faith - the example of Thomas More 1978
  • A Price Too High (autobiography) 1989
  • The Jesuit Factor 1990
  • The Colombia Syndicate (novel) 1991
  • Hatred and Contempt (novel) 1992
  • His Brother's Keeper (novel) 1993
  • Indictment for Murder (novel) 1994
  • The Caverel Claim (novel) 1998
  • The Richmond Diary (novel) 2001
  • A Relic of War (novel) 2004

References[edit]

External links[edit]


Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Malcolm McCorquodale
Member of Parliament for Epsom
1955Feb 1974
Constituency abolished
(see: Epsom & Ewell)
New constituency Member of Parliament for Epsom and Ewell
Feb 19741978
Succeeded by
Archie Hamilton
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Hobson
Solicitor General for England and Wales
1962–1964
Succeeded by
Dingle Foot
Preceded by
Elwyn Jones
Attorney General for England and Wales
1970–1974
Succeeded by
Samuel Silkin
Preceded by
Basil Kelly
Attorney General for Northern Ireland
1972–1974
Succeeded by
Samuel Silkin