The Stream of Natural Law

Springing up in Dornoch, the Stream of Natural Law symbolically flows all the way down from the Highlands of Scotland to Strasbourg, and out into the wider continent after the Second World War through the 47 signatory states of the European Convention.

This week marks the start of a 100 day countdown to the 70th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights. In this blog, English Cabaret describe their symbolic Stream of Natural Law that charts the different stages of David Maxwell Fyfe’s journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg.

The song cycle Dreams of Peace & Freedom, is at the heart of our telling of David Maxwell Fyfe’s journey from Nuremberg, where he was British deputy chief prosecutor, to Strasbourg, where at the Council of Europe, he chaired the committee responsible for drafting the European Convention on Human Rights. It fuses the poetry in Fyfe’s mind as a true Romantic of the Law, with the music in the landscape along his way.  

The Stream of Natura Law – Image realized by Lily Casson

The refrain, ‘There are waters’ taken from Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet IV – The Dead, blows through the cycle to introduce different stages along that journey. In turn, these changing waters have inspired the idea of a mythical stream of Natural Law.  Springing up in Dornoch, it symbolically flows all the way down from the Highlands of Scotland to Strasbourg, and out into the wider continent after the Second World War through the 47 signatory states of the European Convention.

In this way, those same Human Rights represent a renaissance of the ‘Camelot’ values of natural law, requiring Fyfe’s ‘faith of a romantic’ as well as cold calculating legislation.

For us, the source of that stream is history, remembered and forgotten, and for Maxwell Fyfe it sprang up amid the wild natural history and beauty of Dornoch in the Scottish Highlands. This was the childhood home of his mother Isabel, and the setting of a family tragedy during the late Highland Clearances. ‘Tome the old tales were very close’ he writes in his autobiography of the stories of his family that were a feature of youthful summer holidays, and his admiration for the astonishing beauty of this corner of Sutherland seeped into his soul and kindled a lifelong interest in justice and the law of nature. 

If the source of the Stream of Natural Law is Dornoch, it flows down country to the city of Edinburgh, heart of the Scottish Enlightenment, where David Maxwell Fyfe was born and educated at George Watson’s College. His recollections of his childhood ‘are all etched indelibly’ on his memory, firing him with the romance of Walter Scott and the enlightened natural law of James Wilson and John Witherspoon, both founding fathers of the USA. 

Maxwell Fyfe left Edinburgh in 1917. With him, the trickling stream gathers momentum, as natural justice carries dreams of a law that will bring justice to the world at war, still raging. It flows through Liverpool where Fyfe spent the first 15 years of his adult professional life working as a lawyer on the Northern Circuit before being elected Conservative MP for Liverpool West Derby, a seat he held until 1954. For Fyfe, Liverpool was law in action, bolstered by ‘two great traditions, the Liverpool Bar and the Northern Circuit.’ Most importantly, it was the place where he met his muse, lifelong partner and wife Sylvia Harrison, who was born and brought up in the city. 

A tributary of the Stream of Natural Law is Natural Justice, which runs for many miles underground and unseen. Just as the Classics that he studied at Balliol College, Oxford strengthened and deepened Maxwell Fyfe’s commitment to the law of nature described by Greek and Roman scholars, so this fount of knowledge runs below the surface, informing and feeding into the stream as it flows towards the sea of human consciousness. 

In London, the seat of Government under the law, the Stream of Natural Law becomes a river that bursts out into the sunlight once more.  Here David and Sylvia made their home and brought up their family in and around Westminster, whilst Fyfe worked in the House of Commons for 20 years. 

 Across the sea, in the city where the war crimes trials take place,this river emerges again, to wash and rewrite human freedoms.In Nuremberg,after WWII, natural justice was re-awakened after the years of barbarity. Describing the ambition the Allies had for the war crimes trials David Maxwell Fyfe writes ‘Natural justice demanded that we should inform (those on trial)  clearly what charges were against them, produce to them the evidence in which these charges were based, and give them a full opportunity of answering them.‘  

David Maxwell Fyfe’s year in the bombed city was a pivot point in his life. At the Trials he created a record of Nazi atrocities, and confronted the perpetrators. But his time there also allowed for a period of reflection which nurtured his subsequent championing of human rights. 

After his year prosecuting the Nazis in Nuremberg, David Maxwell Fyfe was ‘very anxious that we should get an international sanction in Europe behind the maintenance of …basic decencies of life.‘  Invited by Winston Churchill to take part in the Congress of Europe at the Hague in May 1948 he became a member of the inaugural Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe the following year, attending their meetings in August 1949 and 1950 which were held in Strasbourg. It was here that he chaired the committee that negotiated a draft of a Convention on Human Rights that was adopted by the Assembly of the Council of Europe and signed in November 1950. 

And so it is at Strasbourg that the river of natural law gathers momentum as it finally flows towards the sea of human consciousness, and the human rights and freedoms that were ignored during the war, are enshrined in a European Convention that tries to prevent crimes against humanity being committed again. A European Court is later established there – at the water’s edge. 

Listen to our brand new mastered recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom at http://thehumansinthetelling.org/song-cycle/

The Law is a Living Thing

The influence of Magna Carta on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was acknowledged by Eleanor Roosevelt, when she described it as the International Magna Carta. While the UDHR defines the rights, The European Convention, as an international treaty under which signatories agree to be bound by its’ requirements was a natural successor to Magna Carta, so it seemed right to commemorate the two – the ancient and modern side by side.

In the week of the anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, Sue Casson looks at the relationship between the Great Charter and the European Convention on Human Rights as she continues her series exploring how her song cycle Dreams of Peace & Freedom developed. 

The subtle, pared down sound of Dreams of Peace & Freedom that by necessity defined our Edinburgh Fringe performances in 2014, made the idea of a pop-up tour to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights the following year more possible, as with a narrator and three singers, one of whom doubles on piano, we could, and did, turn up to sing in as many places with connections to Magna Carta as we could, with very little fuss.

Hold on – Magna Carta? That’s something quite different, surely? But in fact, it was just this happy coincidence that prompted our big idea that 2015 was a Big Year for Freedom

Magna Carta

Magna Carta Libertatum (to give it its’ full name – the Great Charter of Liberties) historically enshrined natural rights and freedoms into British law for the first time. It offered access to swift justice, outlawed illegal imprisonment, limited feudal payments to the king and protected the rights of the church. It has been described as the

foundation of the freedom of the individual against the arbitrary authority of the despot.

Lord Denning (1899 – 1999)

The influence of Magna Carta on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was acknowledged by Eleanor Roosevelt, when she described it as the International Magna Carta. While the UDHR defines the rights, The European Convention, as an international treaty under which signatories agree to be bound by its’ requirements was a natural successor to Magna Carta, so it seemed right to commemorate the two – the ancient and modern side by side.

65 years since the signing of the ECHR and 800 years since King John signed the Magna Carta

When we laid out our plans for our Big Year for Freedom, we were only vaguely aware of the British government’s decision to make major changes to the Human Rights Act, which incorporates the ECHR. But as the year progressed, what had seemed a historic commemoration gradually took on the guise of political activism.

David Maxwell Fyfe provided a link between Magna Carta and the ECHR. In his speech to The American Bar Association as they unveiled their monument in Runnymede in 1957, he laid out his belief in natural law – law derived from nature or ethical reason, that exists independently of a given political order, that is at the heart of the great Charter. Just as Magna Carta protected rights that existed beyond the King’s jurisdiction, so the European Convention, which Fyfe was instrumental in drafting, provided recourse for citizens beyond the nation state, who believed their human rights were infringed.

We highlighted this when we opened our Edinburgh show with a musical setting of some of the closing lines from Magna Carta translated from the original Latin, sung alongside excerpts from this speech. There are Waters, which closed the show, was accompanied by a draft list of all the fundamental freedoms that made up the European Convention.

However, during our tour, an explicit parallel between the Magna Carta and the modern International Magna Carta, seemed missing from the song cycle. Tom laid down the gauntlet of finding a way to musically mesh the two – by somehow fusing David Maxwell Fyfe’s suggested preamble to the European Convention which he had recently discovered online, with my musical setting of Magna Carta, to make the association between the two musically clear. I came up with the idea of a descant and The International Magna Carta became the grand finale of Dreams of Peace & Freedom.

Now David Maxwell Fyfe’s personal story, and his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg, was encased between two great Charters, and the activism, to preserve the rights enshrined within them has become another strand to our story. When Cultural Solidarity Media, as part of a documentary of the Nuremberg Trials for Russia 1,  came to film Dreams of Peace & Freedom in June 2016, we used the film they gave us of our performance of The International Magna Carta for our pro-Remain campaign during the lead up to the referendum. 2015 was the moment our commemoration became a campaign.

Find out more about our Big Year for Freedom tour at www.kilmuirpapers.org.

Why we are telling our story

Next year marks the dual anniversaries of the Nuremberg Trials (75 years) and the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights (70 years.) Tom Blackmore writes about ‘The Human’s in the Telling’ and why David Maxwell Fyfe’s story is at the heart of this commemoration.

Dreams of Peace & Freedom is the story of David Maxwell Fyfe’s journey from Nuremberg, where he was a leading prosecutor in the War Crimes Trials, to Strasbourg, where he was a champion of the Convention on Human Rights in Europe.

In The Humans in the Telling we, members of his family, tell the story in a song cycle.

‘In Dreams of Peace & Freedom, inspirational quotations from the speeches, letters and autobiography of David Maxwell Fyfe, naturally thread through musical settings of poetry he found inspiring. The melody infuses his chosen poetic words with another unspoken dimension – emotion to reinforce the story, rather as in his speeches, the poetry heightens the tenor of his legal argument.

 Sue Casson, Composer of Dreams of Peace & Freedom

So that we can tell the story more widely in 2020, we have in the past year, made a recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom, and a podcast which provides further depth and background. We have created a filmed recording which explores the landscapes of the story, and produced a book that throws light on the raw resources of the history, and tells you more about the historians.

We are telling this story:

TO PROTECT RIGHTS

As the European Convention is threatened, The Humans in the Telling is the debris of the past from which to build a barricade. We will join with those working to halt the march of populism and nationalism with the raw facts of history.

TO REMEMBER

The Humans in the Telling remembers events too easily forgotten. It remembers the evidence of holocaust, murder and tyranny presented at Nuremberg. Why people fought in the Second World War, not to win, but to protect and restore peace, justice and freedom under the law. And it relates how the first hesitant steps to win the peace were taken in the trial of leading Nazis and in the drawing up of a continental code to keep the people safe.

TO RECONCILE

Looking at the future through the prism of the past is a way back to coherence and unity. It allows a reset of the mind.

The Humans in the Telling invites reflection on the response to the Second World War, the last time the nation was at war.

After the Second World War a movement that had grown underground for many years flowered. There was a passion for peace, an awakening to the need for natural justice, and an understanding that freedom could only be exercised under the law both at home and around the world.

We can reconnect and learn again that:

‘A person is a person because he recognizes others as persons’

Desmond Tutu

#rememberwhy

Every year in November, we rightly and properly remember those who died in war. In November 2020 let’s #rememberwhy

‘It was for this that we fought.’

Bob Cooper, The Times

This was the observation of Bob Cooper, a correspondent for The Times,  about the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials  which he attended for the vast majority of the year long sitting. And it was a much-loved quotation of David Maxwell Fyfe, one of the leading British prosecutors at the trials.

Every year in November we properly and respectfully we remember those who fought and died in the two world wars and in wars since. Those who fought and those who gave their lives must be remembered.

November 2020 provides a unique opportunity to explore why they fought, as Armistice shares November with two other significant anniversaries, that of the opening of the War Crimes Trials in 1945 and five years later the signing of the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Second World War was fought in defence of a series of vital ideas; it was fought for the protection of what it was to be human – in the face of a regime that was rapidly degrading humanity in its’ relentless pursuit of power. Those who fought did not want to share, or their loved ones to share that plight. They were fighting for the maintenance of order, to protect peace and security, for freedom under the law, and for justice.

I was once told that a bank thronging with customers is at peace if it is sure that sufficient funds are stored in its vault. In the same way, a nation is at peace – as long as its’ citizens are confident that their fundamental rights and freedoms are respected and protected.

After the second world war and the profound continental disruption in rights and freedoms it was necessary to reset the lock on protecting them.

The Nuremberg War Crimes Trials began within six months of the end of hostilities. Thousands of documents of evidence were analysed, twenty-three defendants were cross-examined and tried, and most awoke to their guilt, and were sentenced. It was a flawed but glorious exercise in natural justice, and a public declaration of the restoration of the principles of the order of law. And it created a record of the barbarity of tyranny, and the failure of totalitarianism.

Nuremberg War Crimes Trials 1945 – 46

It was for this that we fought

The European Convention on Human Rights was a regional instrument, or off-shoot, of the Universal Declaration. Forty-nine sovereign nations are signatories to this treaty and subject to the Court of Human Rights. Any individual, in any of those countries, can take their government to this court if they believe their fundamental rights and freedoms are being undermined. It remains a flawed and glorious exercise in natural law, which has played, and continues to play, a part in the maintenance of civic harmony across the continent. And it creates a bulwark of protection against the return of dictatorship.

Council of Europe at the Hague 1949

It was for this that we fought

At a time seven decades on, when the tectonic plates of rights and freedoms are shaking, if not shifting, in 2020 it is worth sharing the commemoration of those who fought and died – with the consideration of why they fought and what they fought for.