Desmond de Silva (barrister)

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Sir George Desmond Lorenz de Silva, QC, KStJ (13 December 1939 – 2 June 2018) was a prominent British lawyer, and former United Nations Chief War Crimes Prosecutor in Sierra Leone.


Desmond de Silva was of Sri Lankan and Anglo-Scottish origins and comes from a family of lawyers. He was the son of Fredrick de Silva, MBE, formerly Ceylon's ambassador to France and Switzerland, and the grandson of The Honourable George E. de Silva and the second cousin of Lasantha Wickrematunge.


A graduate of Dulwich College Preparatory School and Trinity College, Kandy, Sri Lanka, de Silva was a senior associate member of St. Antony's College, Oxford. He was a Bencher of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.[citation needed]


De Silva was called to the Bar in the Middle Temple in London in 1964, and appointed Queen's Counsel in 1984. He was one of the most high-profile criminal Queen's Counsel in England. He was a member of the Criminal Bar Association and the International Association of Prosecutors. In 2002, the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed him Deputy Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, at the level of an Assistant Secretary-General. Annan later promoted him to the post of Chief Prosecutor at the higher level of Under Secretary-General in 2005. He brought about the arrest of Charles Taylor, former President of Liberia, who was convicted of war crimes at the Hague in 2011.

In 2003, de Silva was sent as envoy by the United Nations Development Programme to Belgrade to persuade Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and his government to surrender indicted war criminals.[1][2]

De Silva's legal expertise included war crimes, crimes against humanity, espionage, treason, drugs, terrorism, human rights, white-collar fraud and sports law. His clients included John Terry, Lee Bowyer, Buzz Aldrin,[3] Harry Redknapp, Ron Atkinson, Hans Segers, Lawrence Dallaglio, Graham Rix and Jamie Osborne. De Silva was a member of the Governing Council of the Manorial Society.[4] In October 2011, with the approval of Prime Minister David Cameron, de Silva was appointed to head a Review into collusion by the security services and other agencies of the state into the 1989 murder of the high-profile Belfast lawyer Pat Finucane. The report was published on 12 December 2012, and acknowledged "a willful and abject failure by successive Governments";[5][6] however, Finucane's family called the de Silva report a "sham."[7]

On 23 July 2010 he was appointed[8] by the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate Israel's interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla in international waters that led to 9 deaths.

In 2014 he was Chairman of an Inquiry into torture and executions of detainees in Syria. The Report produced went before the Geneva 11 Peace Talks into the civil war in Syria.

On 10 January 2016 a Senior Army Commander complained about a "witch hunt" against British soldiers who were Iraq war veterans by pursuing frivolous legal claims. De Silva agreed with the Army Chief by saying, "Up to now nobody has got these ambulance-chasing lawyers by the scruff of the neck."[9]

Personal life and death[edit]

He married Princess Katarina Karađorđević of Yugoslavia on 5 December 1987. She was the daughter of Prince Tomislav of Yugoslavia and Princess Margarita of Baden, a granddaughter of Alexander I of Yugoslavia and the great-great-great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria. They divorced on 6 May 2010. They have one daughter, Victoria Marie Esmé Margarita de Silva, who is herself in the line of succession to the British throne.[10]

Family Pedigree

He had one sister, Helga de Silva, whose son Detmar Blow was married to the late Isabella Blow.

De Silva died on 2 June 2018 after a stroke following elective heart surgery in November 2017.[3]


Sir Desmond was knighted in the 2007 New Year Honours, and was also a Knight of the Most Venerable Order of Saint John and a Knight Commander of the Royal Order of Francis I.[citation needed] He was sworn in as a Member of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom in October 2011.[11] On 22 August 2016, Alexander, Crown Prince of Yugoslavia awarded him with the Grand Cross of the Order of the White Eagle.[12]


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ a b Hardy, Jack (12 December 2018). "Top QC left under freezing air vent in hospital before his death after operation, inquest hears". The Telegraph.
  4. ^ Governing Council of the Manorial Society
  5. ^ De Silva, Rt. Hon. Sir Desmond (12 December 2012). "Pat Finucane Review: Executive Summary And Principal Conclusions". Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  6. ^ Bowcott, Owen (12 December 2012). "Pat Finucane report: army handlers 'helped loyalist gunmen select targets'". The Guardian. Retrieved December 12, 2012.
  7. ^ Bowcott, Owen (12 December 2012). "Finucane family denounce report as a 'sham'". The Guardian. Retrieved 12 December 2012.
  8. ^ "UN rights body names team to probe Gaza flotilla raid ", Haaretz, 23 July 2010
  9. ^
  10. ^ Blood Royal - From the time of Alexander the Great to Queen Elizabeth II, by Charles Mosley, published for Ruvigny Ltd., London, 2002 (p. 288); ISBN 0-9524229-9-9
  11. ^ "Orders approved at the Privy Council held by the Queen at Buckingham Palace on 16th November 2011" (PDF).
  12. ^ "Crown Prince awards Royal Orders to husbands of Karadjordjevic Princesses". The Royal Family of Serbia. 22 August 2016.

External links[edit]