Hartley Shawcross

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The Lord Shawcross
Shawcross being interviewed in 1954
President of the Board of Trade
In office
24 April 1951 – 26 October 1951
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byHarold Wilson
Succeeded byPeter Thorneycroft
Attorney-General for England
In office
4 August 1945 – 24 April 1951
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded bySir David Maxwell Fyfe
Succeeded bySir Frank Soskice
Member of Parliament
for St Helens
In office
5 July 1945 – May 1958
Preceded byWilliam Albert Robinson
Succeeded byLeslie Spriggs
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
14 February 1959 – 10 July 2003
Life peerage
Personal details
Hartley William Shawcross

(1902-02-04)4 February 1902
Giessen, Grand Duchy of Hesse, German Empire
Died10 July 2003(2003-07-10) (aged 101)
Cowbeech, East Sussex, England
Political partyLabour (before 1959)
Other political
Crossbencher (1959–2003)
Alberta Rosita Shyvers
(m. 1924; died 1943)
Joan Winifred Mather
(m. 1944; died 1974)
Susanne Monique Huiskamp
(m. 1997)
Children3 (by Mather; including William)
EducationDulwich College
Alma mater
AwardsKnight Bachelor (1945)

Hartley William Shawcross, Baron Shawcross, GBE, PC, QC (4 February 1902 – 10 July 2003), known from 1945 to 1959 as Sir Hartley Shawcross, was an English barrister and Labour politician who served as the lead British prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes tribunal. He also served as Britain's principal delegate to the United Nations immediately after the Second World War and as Attorney General for England.

Early life[edit]

Hartley William Shawcross was born in Giessen, Germany, elder son of British parents, John Shawcross, MA (Oxon) (1871-1966) and Hilda Constance (died 1942), daughter of G. Asser.[1] At this time, his father was teaching English at Giessen University. His younger brother, Christopher (1905-1973), was a barrister and Labour party politician.[2] Shawcross attended Dulwich College, the London School of Economics and the University of Geneva and read for the Bar at Gray's Inn, where he won first-class honours.[3]


Shawcross interviewed on CBS-TV's Longines Chronoscope (1954)

During his initial career as a barrister, Shawcross was part of the legal team hired by the colliery owners at the inquiry into the Gresford Colliery disaster in 1934, Stafford Cripps in counterpart representing the miners' union.[4]

He joined the Labour Party and was Member of Parliament for St Helens, Lancashire from 1945[5] to 1958, being appointed to be Attorney General in 1945[6] until 1951. In 1946, when debating the repeal of laws against trade unions in the House of Commons, Shawcross allegedly said "We are the masters now",[7] a phrase that came to haunt him.

He was knighted in 1945 upon his appointment as Attorney-General[8] and named Chief Prosecutor for the United Kingdom at the Nuremberg Trials.

Nuremberg Trials[edit]

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[citation needed] style of American, Soviet, and French prosecutors. Shawcross's opening speech, which lasted two days, 26 and 27 July 1946, sought to undermine any belief that the Nuremberg Trials were "victor's justice" in the sense of being revenge exacted against defeated foes. He focused on the rule of law and demonstrated that the laws that the defendants had broken, expressed in international treaties and agreements, were those to which prewar Germany had been a party. In his closing speech, he ridiculed any notion that any of the defendants could have remained ignorant of Aktion T4, extermination of thousands of Germans because they were old or mentally ill. He used the same argument in respect of millions of other people "annihilated in the gas chambers or by shooting" and maintained that each of the 22 defendants was a party to "common murder in its most ruthless forms".[9][10]

Attorney-General and UN Factotum[edit]

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, 'the acid bath murderer'.[citation needed]

From 1945 to 1949, he was Britain's principal delegate to the United Nations and was involved in the official adoption of the Flag of the United Nations in 1946,[11] but 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.

Shawcross lent his name to a Parliamentary principle, in a defence of his conduct regarding an illegal strike, that the Attorney-General "is not to be put, and is not put, under pressure by his colleagues in the matter" of whether or not to establish criminal proceedings.[12][13]

In 1951, he replaced Harold Wilson as President of the Board of Trade after Wilson and the Bevanite members of the Cabinet resigned in protest of the introduction of prescription charges for the National Health Service by Chancellor of the Exchequer Hugh Gaitskell.[14]

Return to opposition[edit]

Shawcross ended his law career in 1951, the same year as the defeat of the second Attlee ministry. He was expected to become a Conservative, earning him the nickname "Sir Shortly Floorcross", but instead he remained true to his Labour roots.

During the committal hearing for the suspected serial killer doctor John Bodkin Adams in January 1957, he was seen dining with the defendant's suspected lover, Sir Roland Gwynne (Mayor of Eastbourne from 1929–31), and Lord Goddard, the Lord Chief Justice, at a hotel in Lewes.[15] The meeting added to concerns that the Adams trial was the subject of concerted judicial and political interference.[citation needed]

Shawcross resigned from Parliament in 1958, saying he was tired of party politics.


Shawcross was made one of Britain's first life peers on 14 February 1959 as Baron Shawcross, of Friston in the County of Sussex,[16] and sat in the House of Lords as a crossbencher.

Defending press freedom[edit]

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.[17]

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".[17] 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."[17]

In 1983, Shawcross chaired a Tribunal of Enquiry to handle a protest over the outcome of the 1983 British Saloon Car Championship.

Chancellor of the University of Sussex[edit]

From 1965 to 1985 Shawcross was Chancellor of the University of Sussex.

Later years[edit]

In the 1974 New Year Honours, Lord Shawcross was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE).[18]

Shawcross held a number of company directorships including with EMI, Rank Hovis MacDougall, Caffyns Motors Ltd, Morgan et Cie SA, and Times Newspapers, and chairman of Upjohn & Co Ltd. He had served as chairman of the International Chamber of Commerce's Commission on Unethical Practices and of Morgan Guaranty Trust Company's Internal Advisory Council.[19]

Philanthropy and awards[edit]

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.[20] He was instrumental in the foundation of the University of Sussex and served as chancellor of the university from 1965-85.[citation needed]

He was the President of the charity Attend[21] (then National Association of Leagues of Hospital Friends) from 1962–72.

Personal life[edit]

Lord Shawcross's gravestone - Jevington, East Sussex.

Lord Shawcross was married three times. His first wife, Alberta Rosita Shyvers (m. 24 May 1924), suffered from multiple sclerosis and died by 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. They had three children - the author and historian William Shawcross, Hume Shawcross and Dr Joanna Shawcross.

At the age of 95, he married Susanne Monique (née Jansen), formerly wife of Gerald B. Huiskamp,[22] on 18 April 1997 in Gibraltar. Lady Shawcross died on 2 March 2013.[23]

Shawcross was a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron and the Royal Cornwall Yacht Club.[19] From 1947 to 1960 he was the owner of Vanity V, a 12-metre class racing yacht designed by William Fife to the Third International Rule, built in 1936, which he kept at his home in Cornwall.[24] A later skipper of the boat, John Crill, recalls being told that Lord Shawcross, "when the election was due in about 1951, had Vanity V repainted with a vast 'Vote Labour' banner all the way along her topsides".

Lord Shawcross died on 10 July 2003 at home at Cowbeech, East Sussex, at the age of 101[25] and is buried in the churchyard at Jevington in Sussex.


Coat of 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.[26]


  1. ^ Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 106th edition, Charles Mosley, Burke's Peerage Ltd, 1999, p. 2594
  2. ^ Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 106th edition, Charles Mosley, Burke's Peerage Ltd, 1999, p. 2594
  3. ^ Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, 106th edition, Charles Mosley, Burke's Peerage Ltd, 1999, p. 2594
  4. ^ Walker, Sir Henry, CBE LlD (Commissioner); Brass, John, MInstCE MIMinE (Assessor); Jones, Joseph, CBE JP (Assessor) (January 1937), Reports on the causes of and circumstances attending the explosion which occurred at Gresford Colliery, Denbigh on 22nd September, 1934, retrieved 21 September 2018 – via Durham Mining Museum{{citation}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)Section B of report.
  5. ^ "No. 37238". The London Gazette. 24 August 1945. p. 4294.
  6. ^ "No. 37222". The London Gazette. 14 August 1945. p. 4135.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "No. 37243". The London Gazette. 28 August 1945. p. 4345.
  9. ^ "NAZIS LEADERS LOSING HOPE". Examiner (Launceston, Tas. : 1900 - 1954). 29 July 1946. p. 1. Retrieved 3 January 2020.
  10. ^ Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal. Vol. 19. 1946. pp. 432–528.
  11. ^ "United Nations Flag Approved by General Assembly's Legal Committee". United Nations Photo.
  12. ^ Shawcross, Hartley (29 January 1951). "Prosecutions (Attorney-General's Responsibility)". Hansard. House of Commons Debates (c681).
  13. ^ Heintzman, Ralph (16 May 2020). "The real meaning of the SNC-Lavalin affair". The Globe and Mail Inc.
  14. ^ Thorpe, Andrew (1997). A History of the British Labour Party. London: Macmillan Education UK. p. 133. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-25305-0. ISBN 978-0-333-56081-5.
  15. ^ Cullen, Pamela V. (2006). A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams. London, UK: Elliott & Thompson. ISBN 978-1-904027-19-5.
  16. ^ "No. 41637". The London Gazette. 17 February 1959. p. 1164.
  17. ^ a b c "Obituaries: Lord Shawcross". The Daily Telegraph. 11 July 2003. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  18. ^ "No. 46162". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1974. p. 7.
  19. ^ a b Mosley, Charles, ed. (1982). Debrett's Handbook 1982, Distinguished People in British Life. Debrett's Peerage Limited. p. 1405. ISBN 0-905649-38-9.
  20. ^ "Lord Shawcross". The Times. 11 July 2003. ISSN 0140-0460.
  21. ^ "Attend VIPs | Attend".
  22. ^ Burke's Peerage 1999, vol. 2, p. 2594
  23. ^ "Peerage News: The Baroness Shawcross". 6 March 2013.
  24. ^ "Page on the yacht "Vanity V"". Website of the International Twelve Metre Association (ITMA). 20 January 2020. Retrieved 5 February 2024.
  25. ^ "Nazi war crimes prosecutor dies". 10 July 2003.
  26. ^ Debrett's Peerage. 2003. p. 1461.


External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for St Helens
Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by Attorney-General for England
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by President of the Board of Trade
April–October 1951
Succeeded by
Media offices
Preceded by Chairman of the Press Council
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by Senior Privy Counsellor
With: The Earl of Listowel (1988–1997)
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Preceded by Senior life peer
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