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Why we are in Liverpool now

We stand with Joan, David and Sylvia stand with Joan, and all of us ‘ordinary people’ must stand with Joan. On Holocaust Day the dehumanising of those in terror must end, and we must turn again to democracy and the rule of law.

On Holocaust Memorial Day, Tom Blackmore reflects on how the light of history shines very brightly on the barbarity of Holocaust, and casts a shadow over our present uncertain times.

There is justice in human rights. 

This is a very important time of year. On 27th January 1945 the Russian army reached Auschwitz concentration camp and liberated the remaining prisoners. Since 2000 this day has been dedicated to the victims of the Holocaust, as a day of remembrance and reflection.

Over the past decade we have been honoured to play a small part in these memorials. We have been drawn in because of the story we tell. It’s the story of David Maxwell Fyfe’s journey from prosecuting at Nuremberg to championing and drafting the Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms at Strasbourg.

At Nuremberg he was one of the first to forensically study the evidence of Holocaust, including Russian film showing the liberation of Auschwitz, and capturing the evidence of the barbaric atrocities of the Nazis. He wrote home to his wife Sylvia:

I went to a pre-view of the Russian film in Auschwitz concentration camp.  
When one sees children of Mo’s age and younger in this horrible place and the clothes of infants who were killed, it is worth a year of our lives to help to register for ever and with practical result the reasoned horror of humanity.

David Maxwell Fyfe writes to his wife, Sylvia during the Nuremberg Trials

Throughout his time in Nuremberg David was MP for the West Derby Constituency in Liverpool, and he had honed his skills as a barrister on the Northern Circuit in that city, with chambers on Lord Street.

Sylvia was a child of Liverpool and while David was in Nuremberg, she took on the responsibilities of constituency MP. It is this bond that first led us to perform on Holocaust Memorial Day – in the International Slavery Museum and the Museum of Liverpool.

Sylvia visited David in Nuremberg and later a friend of hers asked if David would write about the trials for a new magazine being launched in Liverpool in 1946. David wrote about ‘The Inefficiency of the Nazis.’ In response to that article Sylvia wrote:

It seems most necessary to get some anti-Nazi propaganda about.
Everyone seems to have forgotten and coming fresh from all its surroundings as I have done, I cannot believe people can forget so fast.   We must never look the other way again.

Sylvia Maxwell Fyfe writes to her husband, British prosecutor, David Maxwell Fyfe

Except that now we are turning to look the other way again. Last week, Holocaust survivor, Joan Salter properly called out Suella Braverman, the holder of one of great offices of state at a meeting where:

Comments criticising the Royal National Lifeboat Institution for saving these desperate boat people, instead of leaving them to drown, were shared openly and to applause from others in the audience.

Joan Salter describes the meeting she attended in The Guardian (17/1/23)

Braverman uses ‘the language of hate and division’, in a manner resembling the Nazis in the 1930s.

We are touring the country performing our story to protest at the threat to the Convention, which for David was the embodiment of the law of nature, but we returned to Liverpool to remember the Holocaust and stand with Joan.

We stand with Joan, David and Sylvia stand with Joan, and all of us ‘ordinary people’ must stand with Joan. On Holocaust Day the dehumanising of those in terror must end, and we must turn again to democracy and the rule of law.  

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Where the streams of natural law flow

Dreams of Peace & Freedom evokes the streams that carried David Maxwell Fyfe on his journey and the river of rights and freedoms that flowed first from Nuremberg to Strasbourg, and then on into 75 years of liberty.

August 28th and 29th this year are the 75th anniversary of the only speech given by David Maxwell Fyfe at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Tom Blackmore writes about the ‘deeper magic’ of Natural Law, which Fyfe extols in this speech, and underpins the Convention he was later to draft and champion in the Council of Europe.

Nature is a revelation. And as just now we are seeking to protect our environment, we must at the same time protect the best of our nature. Wherever and whenever humans have roamed the earth, they have carried with them an instinct for rightness and fairness, a respect for the freedoms and rights of others. This instinct can be swamped by others, instincts for brutality, power, and control through fear. But that finer instinct remains and has been named natural law, which like a stream, is a mutable constant.

By the River Itchen, Winchester

There are countless streams of natural law.

On Instagram this summer, we have been exploring just some of them -capturing the rivers that run through the great Magna Carta cities, which saved and preserved copies of that early testimony to freedom. That Great Charter was the first written expression of natural law that has since formed a basis for democracy all over the world.

David Maxwell Fyfe was carried through his life along his own streams to Nuremberg and then Strasbourg, from his Scottish childhood, through university at Oxford, an early working life in Liverpool and so to the Inns of Court and Westminster. Prepared, he made his mark in Nuremberg and Strasbourg, and sowed the seed for human rights protection in Europe. In each stream he found further wisdom that developed his understanding and appreciation of natural law. (Read more about Maxwell Fyfe’s Stream of Natural Law in our previous blog here.)

During this 75th anniversary year, I have been spending time examining my grandfather’s only speech at the trial, his closing in the case against the Nazi organisations.

First, I looked at his forensic analysis of institutions of the Nazi party and state, and his attempts to describe their evil. As a lawyer it was the corruption of the law and its execution that moved him most. In this extract he focuses on that corruption: 

Let me conclude by reminding you of the opinion of the Supreme Court. Of the murders committed during the 1938 demonstrations by Hoheitstraeger (bearers of sovereignty) and members of the SA and SS it was pleaded that, I quote,

“in such cases as when Jews were killed without an order or contrary to orders, ignoble motives could not be determined.” 

The purpose of those proceedings in the Party Court were, I quote again,

“to protect those Party comrades who, motivated by decent National Socialist attitude and initiative, had overshot their mark.”  

In those few lines you have the secret of all the death and suffering, the horror and tragedy, that these defendants and the members of these organizations have brought upon the world. You see to what depths of evil they corrupted the human conscience. No ignoble motive – the murder of women and children through

“decent National Socialist attitude and initiative.”   

From David Maxwell Fyfe speech at Nuremberg against the Nazi organisations

 The Court’s explanation of slaughter as reasonable, reveals the abyss that had grown between fair judgement and monstrous justification. The evil was clear to all, except those who could not see because of indoctrination into the power of sovereignty (as expressed in the fuhrerprinzip), and a subsequent capacity to judge wrong as right. All of this was of course built on a foundation of fear. 

Time and again the Nazi state turned its back on the rigours of natural justice and the sense of natural law.

But secondly, and perhaps most importantly, at the end of the speech Maxwell Fyfe seeks to describe how this could be put right.

It might be presumptuous of lawyers who did not claim to be more than the cement of society to speculate or even dream of what we wish to see in place of the Nazi spirit, but I give you the faith of a lawyer, some things are surely universal: tolerance, decency, kindliness.

When such qualities have been given the chance to flourish in the ground that you have cleared, a great step will have been taken. It will be a step towards the universal recognition that :

“sights and sounds, dreams happy as her day/ And laughter learnt of friends, and gentleness/ In hearts at peace…”

Are not the prerogative of any one country. They are the inalienable heritage of mankind.

David Maxwell Fyfe quotes Rupert Brooke in his speech at Nuremberg against the Nazi organisations

It is here that he conjures the need for the restoration of natural law for all, which was beginning to become known as universal human rights.

In 1950, months before he tied together natural law with the need for effective international criminal law and human rights in the European Convention, he stated his creed in this speech:

Most people approach the subject of War Crimes Trials fundamentally either as cynic or idealist. This is, I think, because in essence the case for or against trying war criminals depends on that controversial subject which has become succinctly known as human rights.

Your cynic says, “Human Rights? There are none.” Your idealist, however, takes the view that there are certain rights and freedoms not created by lawyers but to which mankind as such is heir and which cannot be alienated. It is a conception akin to the idea of the Law of Nature which had such a wide influence on relationship in past centuries, although now somewhat outmoded… The idea of fundamental Human Rights is one in which I firmly believe.

David Maxwell Fyfe’s speech at the Athenaeum January 1950

On the 75th anniversary of Maxwell Fyfe’s turning point speech at Nuremberg, we will perform a live streamed performance of Dreams of Peace & Freedom. This is our commemoration of Maxwell Fyfe’s work in Nuremberg and Strasbourg. Dreams of Peace & Freedom evokes the streams that carried Maxwell Fyfe on his journey and the river of rights and freedoms that flowed first from Nuremberg to Strasbourg, and then on into 75 years of liberty.

English Cabaret are performing a special livestream performance of Dreams of Peace & Freedom on the anniversary dates. Find out more here.

Discover our Instagram feeds exploring #streamsofnaturallaw here.

Read more excerpts from Maxwell Fyfe’s speech at Nuremberg here.

Don’t get me started on lawyers

I have learnt over the past 25 years that whilst human rights lawyers are brilliant advocates for those they defend, they are, with a few exceptions, lamentable at speaking up for their own purpose, or educating others in the complicated business of rights, freedoms and responsibilities. This failure leaves the field wide open for those who wish to corrode and undermine those rights to grow the power of the executive.

Following Suella Braverman’s outspoken words at the Conservative party conference this week, Tom Blackmore considers the possible implications of the present home secretary’s reforming zeal.

Serious consideration should be given by the Government to developing an effective programme of civic and constitutional education in schools, universities and adult education. Such a programme should particularly focus on questions about human rights, and the balance to be struck between such rights, and individual responsibilities.

Lord Peter Gross, Chairman of IHRAR

This was the first recommendation of the Independent Review into the Human Rights Act chaired by Sir Peter Gross, established when Robert Buckland was Lord Chancellor. The need for such a programme of education has been highlighted in recent months as the institutions and legislation that protect our human rights and fundamental freedoms have become a political football in the tussle for the leadership and soul of the Conservative Party.

I have learnt over the past 25 years that whilst human rights lawyers are brilliant advocates for those they defend, they are, with a few exceptions, lamentable at speaking up for their own purpose, or educating others in the complicated business of rights, freedoms and responsibilities. This failure leaves the field wide open for those who wish to corrode and undermine those rights to grow the power of the executive.

THEN

David Maxwell Fyfe said when addressing the Walter Scott Society in Edinburgh in 1957:

You cannot understand the present except in the light of the past

Maxwell Fyfe was one of the ‘artisans’ of the European Convention on Human Rights in the nascent Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. This work started after the year he spent prosecuting leading Nazis at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. He is our guide to that past. He was clear about the Convention in two ways that can cause confusion now.

First, he knew that the Convention was a protection, a bulwark against tyranny, authoritarianism, and against the dictator. He described Europe in-between the wars in this way:

In this situation some lost their nerve and in the years of tyranny that seemed to have been loosed upon the world took comfort in doctrines that exalted authority. They lost confidence in the free legal and political systems which are the heritage and pride … of the Western World.

As well as this he knew that this ‘loss of confidence’ could happen anywhere at any time if the circumstances allowed it. And that there would always be ambitious people ready to exploit that weakness. As he put it:

The barbarian is not behind us, but always underneath us, waiting to rise up.

His view runs counter to that which traps the Convention in its own time, a product of extraordinary history. It is a protection against a clear and present danger.

Secondly, he knew that his work on the Convention was a beginning, a list, a court and a vision. The list was far simpler than that enumerated in the Universal Declaration. The Court was not established for several years. The vision was that individuals bring their government to account for the removal or abuse of their rights and freedoms.

This required an understanding of the role of courts in developing and defending freedoms that all democracies have:

It should moreover be remembered that a substantial part of the liberties enjoyed in countries with long established judicial systems are derived as much from the accumulated precedents of court decisions over a period of years, as from precise laws passed by parliaments.

As a lawyer, he understood the role the European Court would have in building this additional legal system:

The legal interpretation of a new code, however well-defined would present many difficulties. In fact, it is more than possible that the system would not work with full efficacy until a body of European Case Law had been built up and that might take a considerable time.

These practical understandings were reinforced by a lively philosophy of the law. In Nuremberg he said:

The law is a living thing. It is not rigid and unalterable. Its purpose is to serve mankind and it must grow and change to meet the changing needs of society.

And addressing the American Bar Association when they visited to dedicate their monument to Magna Carta in 1957, he said:

Our laws are not static any more than our society or human nature are static. Their roots, well grounded in history and watered by wisdom are constantly putting out fresh branches and leaves for the comfort of all people.

This legal philosophy was drawn from Fyfe’s understanding of ‘natural law’ and the shared rights and freedoms which belonged to every person. He concluded in Nuremberg with this hope for the trial:

It will be a step towards the universal recognition that:

‘…sights and sounds, dreams happy as her day,
And laughter learnt of friends, and gentleness,
In hearts at peace.’

Are not the prerogative of any one country.
They are the inalienable heritage of mankind.

The Convention was designed to protect from the authoritarian in the expectation that the risk of tyranny is always with us, and constructed so it could grow to deal with change.

NOW

Sam Fowles, a young barrister writing in a recent Big Issue said: 

The UK has been sliding towards authoritarianism for years. 

He goes on:

Democracy is based on the premise that all citizens are equal in dignity. Authoritarians reject that premise. They seek to dominate politics, society, culture, education, and reach into the most private parts of our lives, consolidating power in the hands of a small elite.

Fowles has two advantages in his observations. First, he is a constitutional lawyer who has taken part in and recorded cases that illustrate what he is saying. He has written up his records in a book.

Secondly, he has the benefit of comparative youth. Very few people want the slide towards authoritarianism to happen on their watch. We naturally want as a generation to make things better, even when we have in fact, as I discussed five years ago with Patrick Smith of Buzzfeed, made an arse of it.  Emerging generations see things momentarily more clearly and it is to them that we should listen.

Fowles article explicitly places the intention to leave the Convention as part of the drift towards authoritarianism. But he is not a lone voice, and those voices come from across the political spectrum. There is a growing recognition that the swelling executive powers of the past 15 years have met an obstacle in the Convention.

Recent opposition has come from Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who put departure from the Convention at the heart of campaign to be Prime Minister this summer. And last week she continued to campaign to leave even though Liz Truss’ government have decided to reject the policy for the time being.

Braverman’s words were revealing:

I don’t think we need to be subject to an institution born out of the post-war era which is a bit analogue in the way that it operates, which has centralised power, which is distant and which is politicised, which is pursuing an agenda which is at odds with our politics and our values.

I don’t think that’s the direction that the world is going in, that’s not the direction that people called for with Brexit.

Suella Braverman, at a Spectator event October 2022

Braverman did not offer any values direction but simply rejected those embedded in the Convention. And she deliberately turned her back on the sacrifice of wars which enabled victory and fuelled the post war settlement and all these years of peace in Western Europe. When she stands in front of the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day perhaps she will hear an echo of the dreams of those who died, were injured, captured and who sacrificed their past for her present.

However, her words simply show that at present the Convention is still doing its job of protecting democracy. Those who wish to expand authoritarianism have a stumbling block and can be checked.

Fowles writes

Oppression takes many forms. It can only be avoided by empowering ordinary people.

In Dreams of Peace & Freedom we tell a story of Maxwell Fyfe’s role in the writing of the Convention in his words and the words that inspired him which include the War Sonnet V of Rupert Brooke. Today we release Sue Casson’s setting of The Soldier.

We seek to inform and empower all in the confidence of the protection of their freedom.

And we remain optimistic that tyranny can be resisted. As Maxwell Fyfe wrote:

Let us be of good heart. The ideals which underline our laws have outlasted many tyrannies and have seen the decay and death of many specious theories. The reason why this anvil has broken many hammers is that these ideals are comfortable with the best side of human nature and an expression of the highest reason of mankind.

David Maxwell Fyfe, speech to American Bar Association 1957

Listen to Sue Casson’s The Soldier released on YouTube

Discover the history of the ECHR through the eyes of David Maxwell Fyfe at http://www.thehumansinthetelling.org

The Hammer and the Anvil

“The ideals which underline our laws have outlasted many tyrannies… The reason why this anvil has broken many hammers is that these ideals are comfortable with the best side of human nature and an expression of the highest reason of mankind.” (David Maxwell Fyfe)

As Dominic Raab’s proposed Bill of Rights is put aside by the new cabinet for the present, Tom Blackmore analyses what this means for Britain’s relationship with the European Convention on Human Rights going forward.

On Magna Carta Day 2022 parts of the Conservative Party in government waged war on the European Convention on Human Rights.

In retrospect this was probably triggered by the imminent introduction of the Bill of Rights Bill the week later. It is this bill that the new cabinet has now shelved, prior to introducing different proposals.

The Home Office it appears, chose June 15th as the date of the first deportation flight to Rwanda to ensure a reaction. Since these deportation flights had not been tested in law, there was very little chance that they would take off. In the end the European Court of Human Rights had to protect only two immigrants. The British justice system took care of the rest. However, two European Interim judgements were enough for the howling mob.

The timing established an alternative narrative to Dominic Raab’s. His proposed bill was to the ECHR what Theresa May’s Brexit bill was to leaving the EU. It was a compromise, attempting to straddle two conflicting views and satisfying neither side.  It left Britain anchored in the Convention but sought to dilute its influence and the perception of universal rights.

It wasn’t enough for the right-wing faction of the party. Suella Braverman stood for leadership at lightning speed under the flag of withdrawal from the ECHR. Liz Truss did not have the support of the right until Braverman was eliminated, and now Braverman is her Home Secretary.

‘There is still an appetite to forge ahead with what the Bill was seeking to achieve around immigration and deportations.’

Government source 7th September 2022

Fear of immigration is the favoured hammer of the right. They believe that Brexit ‘got done’ through the fear of the ill-founded threat of immigrants flooding from Turkey. And they feel they can leave the Convention using the threat of wretches in little boats. You wonder where all those thousands more came from this year.

The Convention gives protection to all – including but not just immigrants.

‘The European Convention on Human Rights was the first agreement negotiated by the Council of Europe and surely its greatest single achievement… and is very much a part of our democratic heritage.’

Queen Elizabeth II addressing the Council of Europe 1992

David Maxwell Fyfe, the British lawyer who championed and drafted the Convention, later wrote:

‘Therefore, let us be of good heart. The ideals which underline our laws have outlasted many tyrannies and have seen the decay and death of many specious theories. The reason why this anvil has broken many hammers is that these ideals are comfortable with the best side of human nature and an expression of the highest reason of mankind.

Moreover, our laws are not static any more than our society or human nature are static. Their roots, well grounded in history and watered by wisdom are constantly putting out fresh branches and leaves for the comfort of all people.’

David Maxwell Fyfe, speech to the American Bar Association 1957

The European Convention has indeed put out fresh branches and leaves: equality for all – of any sex, identity or ethnicity, abolition of capital punishment to name just a couple. It has provided comfort and supported our democratic heritage. It has helped build shared values, and so it was comforting to hear Charles III so quick to confirm continuing support of the values his late mother championed throughout her life:

‘Our values have remained, and must remain, constant’.

King Charles III, first televised address to the nation

Yes, they must.

But that will require vigilance and action.

Day 13 | Filling the Silence

In which we bring our festival to a close by filling the silence

Just after the end of our festival run of Dreams of Peace & Freedom last week, we had the opportunity to finally perform in the majestic setting of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. It was a performance that had to be postponed when we were touring to ‘fill the silence’ in support of Justice for Ukraine in May this year and it provided a magical ending to our Edinburgh experience.

At this year’s Grammys, President Zelenksyy asked the world to

‘fill the silence with your music’

Ukrainian President Zelenksyy’s speech at the Grammys 2022

We were moved to answer his call with a series of small scale performances.

As a member of our audience recently said, ‘music is healing’ and it would be right to metaphorically fill the silent streets of Ukraine with the music of an elegy – for lives lost, for freedom and values being swept away. Music and singing are the most human of expressions – a sharp contrast to the inhumanity of warfare and destruction. They are the voice of life continuing in all its’ beauty, despite the present ugliness and purposely inflicted pain. Music drifting through those desolate bombed streets also shows the power of the human spirit to survive. It will not be quashed. In the wasteland there will be inspiration and finer feelings, and hope once more.

For the crime of aggression against his country, the Ukrainian president has called for a special tribunal for President Putin and the Russian military ‘similar to the Nuremberg tribunal’. As a leading British prosecutor there, David Maxwell Fyfe played a notable part in that first war crimes trial. Our performances tells the story of how it came about through his eyes, at the same time showing that justice has been done – and can be done again. It reinforces the idea that there can be no real peace without justice.

The Nuremberg Charter, the result of discussion by 4 allied nations after WWII established a procedure for trying war criminals. It was the first of its’ kind, and sought, by the sovereignty of the rule of law to bring order out of the chaos and bloodshed of WWII. It is one of the charters in our Magna Carta Progress Linktree.

This is what we wish for Ukraine – a return to civilization and everyday life after the fear. But the war isn’t over yet and we need to keep filling the silence. The silence that descends after the news crews from around the world move on and the headlines are grabbed by disasters elsewhere.

Justice for Ukraine will continue to be a cause we support alongside HMDT and those presently defending our rights in this country. We hope that by telling our story we will shine a spotlight on issues with which it chimes, keeping the history alive in the collective memory to ensure its’ significance is never overlooked, and inspires a brighter future.

Sign the petition and find out more about Justice for Ukraine at https://justice-for-ukraine.com/

Discover the what, why and how of the ECHR through the eyes of David Maxwell Fyfe at thehumansinthetelling.org

Day 12 | #HumanRightsAnotherStory

In which we reflect on the audience reaction to our show

Each evening, an hour before Dreams of Peace & Freedom starts at C Cubed – which is the Celtic Masonic Lodge in Brodie’s Close transformed for the festival – we stand bearing leaflets to try to entice in passing trade. Last weekend, a local couple exploring the network of courts and wynds off Lawnmarket made their way into our close in search of seeing another side to the city in which they lived – and a story before their supper.

So much of the theatre in Edinburgh in summer is a matter of happenstance – ‘we’d like to see a show around 7,’ ‘we’d like it to be in this area of town’ ‘we’re in the mood for a story’ and having not found what they were looking for at the Storytelling Centre in Netherbow, they were delighted to have stumbled across what they wanted whilst apparently doing something else.

The story we are telling this summer is a peaceful and reflective antidote to the raging noise of political chaos that is grinding on in the background. The streets of Edinburgh may be strewn with uncollected rubbish because of another pay dispute, but away from it all inside the safe haven of the Celtic Lodge, audiences have been able to find a moment of distracting calm with a performance they unexpectedly find

‘moving and astoundingly beautiful.’

Melvyn Roffe, Principal of George Watson’s College, Edinburgh

It isn’t just that it is

‘Sung beautifully…The cycle draws throughout on the poems of the “English Adonis”, (Rupert Brooke) who had inspired Fyfe… his poetry blooms.’

Kapil Summan – Swansong for the Convention – Scottish Legal News

But what has entranced audiences is that this story of world events that happened after WWII is brought to life by a series of letters exchanged by a couple whilst they were happening, with one of the couple right at the centre of things. It’s a very human story – which is of course the central idea behind ‘the humans in the telling’ project. The personal focus offers a very intimate perspective to what could be a dry historical narrative, and the letters themselves have a period charm that has been much enjoyed. The manner of the telling is something that students of law and those ignorant of these events alike have picked out as particularly striking.

Others have mentioned how seeing a story spotlighting those who have a part to play in history reminds them that history is made by people just like them. This is reinforced by the knowledge that our Edinburgh performances are a passing on of our own family history. Those who have enjoyed our recordings and films online have described how seeing Maxwell Fyfe’s family telling his story in a small venue feels like a very special event. We have been surprised how this has touched audiences.

‘a topical and heartwarming performance about the creation of human rights featuring a mini choir and archive footage. I highly recommend it.’

Jonathan Esk-Riddell on Twitter

With the prevailing government narrative seeking to dehumanise immigrants to solve a political headache the idea behind our #HumanRightsAnotherStory hashtag is a powerful and important one. We are all human, we all have rights, and our own stories. If both teachers and students leave our show enquiring about our Magna Carta Linktree of charters and stressing to us the importance of young people knowing their rights and this history, our 3 weeks in Edinburgh have been thoroughly well spent.

SUPPORT US ON OUR PROGRESS AT CROWDFUNDER.CO.UK/MAGNA-CARTA-PROGRESS

Discover the what, why and how of the ECHR through the eyes of David Maxwell Fyfe at thehumansinthetelling.org

Day 11 | Edinburgh in the spirit of the 8

In which we shine a spotlight on an interesting convergence

There is an unexpected link between the Nuremberg Trials and the first Edinburgh Festival, which is celebrating its’ 75th anniversary this summer. While WWII was still raging, discussions were underway to plan for peace. In Edinburgh they discussed a festival, whilst in London, David Maxwell Fyfe, one of Edinburgh’s sons, lead a committee that looked at what was to be done with leading Nazis when war was over. The plans for the festival were made public on November 24th 1945, 4 days after the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials opened, where Fyfe was a leading prosecutor.

Rebecca West, like Fyfe an alumnus of Edinburgh’s George Watsons College, reported her impressions from the Nuremberg Trials, and in 1946 described in The New Yorker how the trials represented the running down of the ‘war machine’ ‘by which mankind had defended its’ life’ to be replaced by a ‘peace machine, by which mankind intends to live its’ life’ warming up.

The festival in Edinburgh with its’ celebration of international arts was a vivid expression of this peace machine.

In 1947 John Falconer, the Lord Provost wrote that he hoped the new festival would give audiences:

‘a sense of peace and inspiration with which to refresh their souls and reaffirm their belief in things other than the material’

John Falconer, Lord Provost

In 1947, 8 groups came to perform uninvited at the new international festival, sharing their arts in an impromptu outpouring of the joy at being able after the silencing years of war. They inspired today’s Festival Fringe. We have come in their shadow this year, to emphasise the shared history of our stories.

In the last 75 years of peace the Fringe has grown to become the largest celebration of arts in the world, but is it simply too big and unmanageable, or financially unsustainable?

Following two years of pandemic silence, the Fringe has been forced to recalibrate, and as it becomes more managed and curated, and tied to big tech it moves inevitably away from the founders principles of inclusivity, which were not primarily about money.

Speaking to Ed Morrow on CBS for his programme ‘This I believe’ in the early 1950s, David Maxwell Fyfe outlined his personal credo and what he believed his ‘most important task’ was in the time left to him.

‘namely to try to secure that in the second half of our mad century the spiritual stature of mankind will approximate to his material and scientific advances.’

David Maxwell Fyfe

If he were able to be here now, would he have felt that he succeeded?

SUPPORT US ON OUR PROGRESS AT CROWDFUNDER.CO.UK/MAGNA-CARTA-PROGRESS

Discover the what, why and how of the ECHR through the eyes of David Maxwell Fyfe at thehumansinthetelling.org

Day 10 | The Law of Nature

In which we find natural law in the depths of the city

As we walk into our venue from our digs in Lauriston Place each day on our way to the Grassmarket we pass an eye-catching garden cut into a steep slope. Beautifully tended and abundantly green it stands out in stark contrast to the looming buildings all around. A board behind railings explains its’ history.

The garden was opened in 1910 as a facility for what were then the slums of the surrounding area. The brainchild of Patrick Geddes (who has a set of steps named after him that complete our walk up to the Royal Mile), the garden was designed to have

‘a humanizing effect on the poor little waifs of the slums who had never seen a plant grow.’

Open Spaces Committee

The garden we pass was originally designed by Geddes’ daughter Norah and was open during daylight hours May to September for children to get some fresh air, play, and immerse themselves in nature. It’s now in the hands of a local community group who have committed themselves to the founder’s principles of using the space to learn about and care for the environment, grow food and brighten up the street. ‘A haven to sit and chat or just to daydream ‘ as they describe it. It remains a green heart in a densely populated city.

There is a deep connection between the natural world and its’ positive effect on those who inhabit it, which is becoming more widely recognised. David Maxwell Fyfe believed in law as ‘a lively natural force’ in its own right, distinct from the framework of law created by governments. For this reason he saw the need for laws to be as adaptable as nature, ‘not static’ but with the ability to respond to emerging circumstances. Like the ancient Greeks he studied at University, he saw natural law equating with ‘the best side of human nature and an expression of the highest reason of mankind.’ As Geddes recognised, nature brings out the best qualities in humanity – nurturing, reflection, respect and care for the environment, which naturally spills into our behaviour towards others.

We close Dreams of Peace & Freedom with Maxwell Fyfe’s description of the mutability of law in a speech to the American Bar Association in 1957. He uses the greenest of analogies:

‘Their roots, well grounded in history and watered by wisdom are constantly putting out fresh branches and leaves for the comfort of all people.’

David Maxwell Fyfe, Speech to ABA 1957

Rather like the the community garden in West Port.

SUPPORT US ON OUR PROGRESS AT CROWDFUNDER.CO.UK/MAGNA-CARTA-PROGRESS

Discover the what, why and how of the ECHR through the eyes of David Maxwell Fyfe at thehumansinthetelling.org

Day 9 | Our show in pictures

In which we share our opening night photos

The stage is set at C Cubed on the Royal Mile
Members of the family of David Maxwell Fyfe perform Magna Carta
Robert Blackmore reads a letter his great grandfather sent to his wife during his early days at Nuremberg
Whilst he’s away, his wife Sylvia played by Lily Casson takes care of his constituency business in Liverpool
Sylvia and David Maxwell Fyfe pictured at the War Crimes Trials in Nuremberg 1946, flanked by their great grandchildren.
Robert performs the final segment of David Maxwell Fyfe’s closing speech at Nuremberg, alongside archive film of his great grandfather.
‘We have found safety with all things undying…Who is so safe as we?’ Lily and Sue Casson introduce the part of the show that tells the history of the ECHR

If you’re in Edinburgh, come and see Dreams of Peace & Freedom played every evening at C Cubed at 19:10!

Tickets are pay what you can starting at £4.50. Find out more and book tickets here.

SUPPORT US ON OUR PROGRESS AT CROWDFUNDER.CO.UK/MAGNA-CARTA-PROGRESS

Discover the what, why and how of the ECHR through the eyes of David Maxwell Fyfe at thehumansinthetelling.org

Day 8 | The Technical Tightrope

In which we explore the technology that brings our story to life

Just like the world of books, the theatreworld has its own sensitivity about ‘the second’ night. First nights can be disastrous of course, and now shows in the commercial theatre are so technically ambitious this has been side-stepped by a week or possibly more of previews, which allow everything that can go wrong to go wrong and be put right before the show opens and the critics come. 

On the fringe (or just off it as we are this year) this is a luxury only dreamed of. The constrictions of the schedule allow for just 5 minutes to get everything ready for the show, and similar time at the end of the show to take it all away again for the next one in. Our show is not prop or costume heavy, but we need to make sure the microphone is working and in the right place, ensure the calico screen, normally hidden behind black drapes is hanging neatly, and that the powerpoint presentation that accompanies our show is visible onscreen, set up, and ready to go.  

Given that we did the technical rehearsal in this space for the first time on the day we arrived, and since then the schedule has only allowed for a run of the show once each day at showtime during the dress rehearsal and the first performance, it’s perhaps not surprising that the second night produced a series of technical hitches. Film and sound are an integral part of our show, so without them we can’t begin. Luckily, with a little extra time the sound issues were resolved, and we only went up 5 minutes late.

We might take this technology for granted now, but 75 years ago the proceedings at the Nuremberg Trials were not only preserved as a written record, but ambitiously for the times, as a full audio recording and film. As the first trial of war criminals every mounted, it was felt that it must be preserved as entirely as possible for future generations. Each record ensured that all the evidence of atrocities could not be forgotten but were part of history, and being able to see and hear it was part of keeping it alive.

However, capturing the proceedings in this way was not straightforward. To enable the court to run smoothly a team of translators behind glass screens (which we see on the archive film) provided simultaneous translation. Defendants and prosecutors wore headphones to understand one another, and it is suggested that Robert Jackson, the American prosecutor found the time lag difficult to accommodate which ultimately interfered with the effectiveness of his cross-examination.

The complete audio of the trial, with hiss and fuzz removed by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) for clear sound quality is now freely available online. The film record is more intermittent. In our presentation it’s easy to see the challenges of working with only one camera shifting focus from defendant to prosecutor, and there are missing moments while the cameraman changes the reel of film. But it remains chilling, to be able to see Hermann Goering, responsible for so many deaths, and hear the style of his defence. The flickering black and white images may lend some distance, but it is difficult even now to deny their power.

Despite the odd technical hiccup – in the present and in the past- the most important thing is that these stories continue to be shown so they continue to occupy collective memory to try and ensure the horrific events that took place can never happen again.

SUPPORT US ON OUR PROGRESS AT CROWDFUNDER.CO.UK/MAGNA-CARTA-PROGRESS

Discover the what, why and how of the ECHR through the eyes of David Maxwell Fyfe at thehumansinthetelling.org

Day 7 | The Light of the Past

In which we sense the presence of history

Walter Scott, the Edinburgh born 18th century writer of Ivanhoe and Rob Roy, remains a towering presence in the city even 200 years later. This is at least in part due to the huge Scott monument which looms over Princes Street from the Gardens. Arrivals to the city by train stream into the Waverley Station, named after his novel series, and he has inspired a society which is named in his honour, the Walter Scott Club, one of the world’s most prestigious literary societies.

David Maxwell Fyfe was president of this club in 1956 and was a lifelong admirer of Scott’s novels, his childhood steeped in his works. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Fyfe followed in his footsteps, studying Classics at University and forging a career in the legal profession. Coincidentally Scott was also a member of the Tory establishment.

In a speech to the Club, which Tom Blackmore recently came across in the course of his research into his grandfather, Maxwell Fyfe observes :

‘For better or for worse we as a people have a present sense of history…’

David Maxwell Fyfe, Speech to Walter Scott Club 1957

Surrounded by the tall tenements of the old town, ‘the cobbled alleyways’ and the seemingly ever-present view of the majestic castle high on a hill at the top of the Royal Mile, its easy to see how past and present could easily sit side by side in the minds of the city’s inhabitants. The past is a constant presence. The darkened stone bears witness to age and there are plaques scattered across walls proclaiming previous famous city dwellers.

Our show is playing off a court named after Deacon Brodie, whose story may have inspired Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde and across the road there is a writer’s museum, situated in a court with links to Scotland’s noted poet Robert Burns. In this sense, ‘the past is always with us’ and also perhaps more metaphorically speaking, as Fyfe went on to explain in the same speech.

‘You cannot understand the present except in the light of the past’

Or as George Santanyana put it ‘those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it’.

This year, with our show Dreams of Peace & Freedom on our Magna Carta Progress, we are awakening the memory of the past to inform and inspire our future. Visitors to the show have commented on how chillingly the story we tell chimes with the political situation that is unfolding now. As we open at C Cubed tonight, history is peeking over our shoulder.

SUPPORT US ON OUR PROGRESS AT CROWDFUNDER.CO.UK/MAGNA-CARTA-PROGRESS

Discover the what, why and how of the ECHR through the eyes of David Maxwell Fyfe at thehumansinthetelling.org