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On this day in history in 1902, was born Hartley Shawcross.

Shawcross was a lawyer and politician who lead for the prosecution at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. 

Hartley William Shawcross was born on 4th February 1902, in Germany, where his father was lecturing in English at Giessen University. He was educated at Dulwich College and London University and read for the bar at Gray’s Inn.  

In 1945, Shawcross was elected as Labour M.P. for St Helens and was immediately appointed as Attorney General. His first task in this position was the prosecution of William Joyce, Lord Haw Haw, for treason. Shawcross won the case despite the essential legal detail that Joyce was not a British citizen and therefore not capable of treason. Shawcross argued that Joyce was at one time resident in Britain and took advantage of British protection and therefore owed allegiance. This adroit piece of legal legerdemain led to his appointment as Chief Prosecutor for the United Kingdom at Nuremberg.  

Shawcross’ strategy at Nuremberg differed sharply from the tactics employed by American lawyers, whose crusading zeal and thirst for retribution became the stuff of many a Hollywood movie. Shawcross relied exclusively on the rule of law, showing by means of documented evidence that the defendants were responsible for breaches of laws laid out in International treaties. He scorned the defence plea, entered by Nazi officials, that they had only been obeying orders, and contended that ‘a man must refuse to answer to his leader if he is also to answer to his own conscience.’ He maintained that each of the defendants was guilty of ‘common murder in its most ruthless form’. Although some of the defendants were acquitted of war crimes, Shawcross was instrumental in obtaining several convictions.  

Shawcross continued as Attorney General until Labour lost power in 1951. He became known for a chance remark in Parliament: - “We are the masters at the moment”, which was misrepresented as “We are the masters now”, a phrase which was used to political advantage by his opponents as showing arrogance and contempt of the electorate.   

In 1958, complaining of being ’tired of politics’, Shawcross was given a life peerage. In 1981, he joined the newly formed Social Democratic Party and was derided by other Labour peers who dubbed him ‘Lord Shortly Floorcross’. In 1997, aged 95, he married for the third time. He died peacefully at his home in Cowbeech, Sussex, at the age of 101.

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