Hartley Shawcross

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. He also served as Britain's principal delegate to the United Nations immediately after World War II.

The Lord Shawcross

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 and Wales
In office
4 August 1945  24 April 1951
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded bySir David Maxwell Fyfe
Succeeded bySir Frank Soskice
Member of the House of Lords
Lord Temporal
In office
14 February 1959  10 July 2003
Life peerage
Member of Parliament
for St Helens
In office
5 July 1945  12 June 1958
Preceded byWilliam Albert Robinson
Succeeded byLeslie Spriggs
Personal details
Hartley William Shawcross

(1902-02-04)4 February 1902
Giessen, German Empire
Died10 July 2003(2003-07-10) (aged 101)
Cowbeech, East Sussex, England
Alberta Rosita Shyvers
(m. 1924; died 1943)

Joan Winifred Mather
(m. 1944; died 1974)

Susanne Monique Huiskamp (m. 1997)
Alma materLondon School of Economics
University of Geneva

Early life

Hartley William Shawcross was born in Giessen, Germany, to British parents, John and Hilda Constance (Asser) Shawcross,[1] while his father was teaching English at Giessen University. He attended Dulwich College, the London School of Economics and the University of Geneva[2] and read 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[3] to 1958, being appointed to be Attorney General in 1945[4] until 1951. It was in 1946 when debating the repeal of laws against trade unions in the House of Commons that Shawcross allegedly said, "We are the masters now,"[5] 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[6] and named Chief Prosecutor for the United Kingdom at Nuremberg.

From 1945 to 1949, he was Britain's principal delegate to the United Nations and was involved in the official adoption of the UN flag in 1946, [7] 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. 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,[8] and sat in the House of Lords as a cross-bencher.

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.[9] 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 instrumental in the foundation of the University of Sussex and served as chancellor of the university from 1965-85.

He was the President of the charity Attend[10] (then National Association of Leagues of Hospital Friends) from 1962–72. In the 1974 New Year Honours Lord Shawcross was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire (GBE).[11]

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.[12] A later skipper of the boat, John Crill, recalls being told[13] 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".

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".[14] 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."[14]

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 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 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 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 that were perceived as fair and lawful.


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 Susanne Monique (née Jansen), formerly wife of Gerald B. Huiskamp,[15] 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.[16]

Styles and arms

Styles of address

  • 1902–1939: Mr Hartley Shawcross
  • 1939–1945: Mr Hartley Shawcross KC
  • 1945: Mr Hartley Shawcross KC MP
  • 1945–1946: Sir Hartley Shawcross KC MP
  • 1946–1952: The Right Honourable Sir Hartley Shawcross KC MP
  • 1952–1958: The Right Honourable Sir Hartley Shawcross QC MP
  • 1958–1959: The Right Honourable Sir Hartley Shawcross QC
  • 1959–1974: The Right Honourable The Lord Shawcross PC QC
  • 1974–2003: The Right Honourable The Lord Shawcross GBE PC QC

Coat of arms

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


  1. "Person Page".
  2. Hartley William Shawcross, Baron Shawcross. thePeerage.com. Retrieved 19 July 2010.
  3. "No. 37238". The London Gazette. 24 August 1945. p. 4294.
  4. "No. 37222". The London Gazette. 14 August 1945. p. 4135.
  5. 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.
  6. "No. 37243". The London Gazette. 28 August 1945. p. 4345.
  7. "No. 41637". The London Gazette. 17 February 1959. p. 1164.
  8. 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.
  9. "Attend VIPs | Attend".
  10. "No. 46162". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1974. p. 7.
  11. "Obituaries: Lord Shawcross". The Telegraph. 11 July 2003. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  12. Burke's Peerage 1999, vol. 2, p. 2594
  13. "Peerage News: The Baroness Shawcross". 6 March 2013.


  • Shawcross, H. (1995). Life Sentence. London: Constable. ISBN 978-0-09-474980-1.
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
Succeeded by
Sir Frank Soskice
Political offices
Preceded by
Harold Wilson
President of the Board of Trade
April–October 1951
Succeeded by
Peter Thorneycroft
Media offices
Preceded by
Edward Pearce
Chairman of the Press Council
Succeeded by
Patrick Neill
Honorary titles
Preceded by
The Lord Balfour of Inchrye
Senior Privy Counsellor
With: The Earl of Listowel (1988–1997)
Succeeded by
The Duke of Edinburgh
Preceded by
The Lord Shackleton
Senior life peer
Succeeded by
The Lord Chalfont
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