In light of what we are hearing about the Ukraine situation, I again touch on criminal trials, war crimes, war criminals, Nazi war criminals . . .
1/ UNDER THE WIG
This is a gripping memoir from one of our country’s greatest jury advocates, offering a fascinating, no-holds-barred tour behind the scenes of some of the most famous criminal cases of modern times’ The Secret Barrister
‘Gripping’ – The Times
‘Mixes the excitement of the courtroom and some practical tips on the advocacy with the more mundane life of the working lawyer’ – Sunday Times
‘Between such serious case studies, his jovial memoir reflects on the challenges and satisfactions of life as a barrister.’ – Daily Mail
Book review: Under the Wig by William Clegg QC This is both a case book and a memoir, by one of our leading criminal practitioners. The cases are famous ones that got massive newspaper coverage at the time, and the man described in the memoir is both a typical and in some ways not a typical criminal law defender. Review by Paul Magrath.
William Clegg QC is a typical barrister in the sense that he fiercely upholds the right of everyone, however heinous the crime of which they are accused, to have a fair trial and be properly convicted on the evidence – or acquitted if the prosecution has failed to prove its case. But he is different in that he doesn’t conform to the (perhaps rather clichéd) assumption that all “top barristers” must have been to public school and Oxford or Cambridge before strolling into their dad’s chambers, bursting with entitlement and clutching a handed-down wig and gown.
Clegg did not have that traditional legal background. In many ways he is perfect exemplar of the current “I am the Bar” campaign . . .
He deals early on with that old chestnut of a lay person’s question, “How can you defend someone you know is guilty?” The answer is that, if you really do know they are guilty, or they admit as much, then you can’t present a case to the court which suggests they are innocent. You can only advise on the consequences of a guilty plea and attempt to mitigate the severity of the sentence.
“Murder, though, is different.” Clients don’t admit to murder, but if they admit to the killing at all it is in the hope of relying on a defence, such as provocation or diminished responsibility, which will reduce the offence to manslaughter, or even self-defence which will exonerate them completely.
More difficult, by far, he says, is defending a person you believe to be innocent.
“The thought that an innocent man may be incarcerated for the rest of their life because I have failed to expose the weakness in the case against him means I don’t sleep at all well at night. It is a worry that gnaws. This was the case with the man who was missing his dog.”
Well-known cases featured:
- The first Nazi war crimes prosecution in the UK
- The Murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common
- The Chillenden Murders (Dr Lin and Megan Russell)
- The Trial of Private Lee Clegg
- The Murder of Jill Dando
- The Murder of Joanna Yeates
- The Rebekah Brooks Phone Hacking Trial
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2/ THE FIRST NAZI WAR CRIMES PROSECUTION IN THE UK
Andrei ‘Andrusha’ Sawoniuk was the only Nazi collaborator to stand trial in a British court for his crimes. A gripping new book tells the remarkable story of how justice was finally served, 50 years late
Retired British Rail ticket collector Anthony Sawoniuk, who was given two life sentences after becoming the first man to be convicted in the UK of Nazi war crimes, today lost his court of appeal bid for freedom.
Three judges, including the lord chief justice, Lord Bingham, ruled his two murder convictions safe. The jury, reduced to 11 through illness, found him guilty unanimously on the first charge and by an 10-1 majority on the second.
Sawoniuk, 78, from south-east London, who claimed his Old Bailey trial last April was an “abuse of the process of the court”, was present in the dock as the decision was announced.
He denied murdering Jews in his hometown of Domachevo, Belarus, 57 years ago while serving in a local police force controlled by the Germans.
His counsel, William Clegg QC, had told the appeal judges that the trial judge, Mr Justice Potts, “erred in law” on a number of issues.
He said the judge erred in law in failing to stay the two murder counts on the ground “that the continued prosecution of the appellant amounted to an abuse of the process of the court”.
Mr Clegg said there had been a “delay that was unprecedented in the history of our criminal courts of 50-something years between offence and trial”.
“We submit that no fair trial is possible after 57 years,” he said.
Sawoniuk told the jury during his trial: “I never killed nobody in my life. I never did and I never dreamed of doing it. I am not a monster. I am an ordinary, working class, poor man.”
He is the only person to have faced a full trial after an inquiry by the war crimes investigation unit set up as a result of the War Crimes Act of 1991.