Each week we bring you quotes from the many fine men and women of various nationalities and professions, including senior military personnel, who were openly appalled by the dispensation of normal military and/or criminal evidentiary processes expected in a trial. These people were highly respected and prominent in their field, at least until they spoke out against the Nuremberg trials.
The Right Honourable The Lord Hankey,
The proud story of British justice is occasionally marred by shabby episodes where the national character falls below its accustomed standards of chivalry, honour and common sense. Examples are the burning of Joan of Arc in the market place of Rouen in May, 1431; the trial of King Charles I and his execution in Whitehall on January 30, 1649; the court-martial and execution of Admiral Byng in 1756, “pour enjourager les autres,” as Voltaire remarked at the time; and the six-years’ long impeachment of Warren Hastings before his acquittal in 1791; all of which have been condemned by modern historians. To that list, I doubt not will be added in due course the War Crimes Trials that began with the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal on 20 November, 1945, and ended, so far as Great Britain was concerned, with the trial which is so well described in this volume…
The trials in the British zone of which [Field-Marshal] von Manstein’s was one, had one merit, namely that charges for “Crimes against Peace” and crimes against humanity were not included. But, apart from this, they reveal many of the errors of their predecessors at Nuremberg, Tokyo and in the American zone, e.g.:
- the creation contrary to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and of the Geneva Convention on the treatment of Prisoners of War, of new ex post facto crimes, that were not criminal or even illegal at the time the acts to which they refer were committed;
- the ruling out of obedience to orders and Act of State as a defence, which had been powerfully denounced in the House of Lords;
- the admission of evidence that would not be tolerated in any British or American Court, including hearsay evidence at third or fourth hand;
- the denial to defending counsel of an opportunity to be present during examination of witnesses and to cross-examine them;
- the lumping together of charges, each charge including a number of different and unconnected events, which no British Court would accept, and the refusal, contrary to the Geneva Prisoners of War Convention, to allow the accused to retain their rank, badges and decorations, and above all to be tried by officers of their own rank.
The latter operated particularly hardly in the case of Field-Marshal von Manstein who was tried by a Court which included no officer who had exercised the Command in prolonged battle of armies and army groups…
With the scales heavily weighted against the defence before the trial began, and trammeled by precedents established by the Nuremberg Tribunal and Courts in the American Zone, it was well nigh inconceivable that the Court could pronounce on every count in von Manstein’s favour and Mr. Paget deserves great credit for what he has achieved.
[Emphasis formatting added] Source: Paget, Reginald T., Manstein: His Campaigns and His Trial, London: Collins, 1951, pp. xi-xiii.