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

Where Nazism Failed

When the leadership of a country has been reduced to this state it is confessed that it lacks inspiration. It is equally evident that it lacks efficiency…

In the summer of 1946, having cross-examined many of the leading Nazis at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, David Maxwell Fyfe wrote this article reflecting on the systematic flaws of Hitler’s regime for his Liverpool constituents.

It is not unusual, although extremely irritating, to meet people who say

“ I quite agree with you that the Nazis were ruthless brutes but they did get results –they were extremely efficient.”

Full text available to view at Churchill Archives

The danger of such a viewpoint is obvious. It is out of such superficial lack of faith  culminating in temporary fits of depression that nations have lost their democratic government and succumbed to some sort of tyranny. It is therefore not without value to study this criticism and to probe its basis in fact.

I myself believe that it is profoundly untrue, and that the more one examines the results of the Nazis’ system and of the expression of Nazi ideology in practise, the more convinced one becomes that the system is bad in itself and has inevitably led to blunders as well as crimes.

…I must emphasize how fortunate the Nazis were in the circumstances of their coming into power. Two things primarily contributed – the world slump of 1930 lighting up the opposition to the Versailles Treaty, and the failure of Parliamentary government in Germany… These circumstances gave Hitlerism the most favourable start…. They had organised that the’ Fuehrer principle’ of implicit obedience to orders coming down the scale from Hitler was supported by their special machinery which at one time had a strength of nearly 6 million, for enforcing speed of government, delation, absence of free thought and speech, internal suppression, external trained and calculated force.

…I am well aware that there used to be criticism during the war of the British system of government by committees and discussion. It was said to lead to a waste of time, to a difficulty in getting decisions and an elaborate system of appeals which were not fitted to the conduct of urgent affairs.

Every government, whether democratic or totalitarian must administer the country through a series of what we call ministries or government departments, and the Germans rather significantly term ‘agencies’… For any efficient government there must be a liaison between departments at all levels. This is carried out by an informal interchange of views and in Britain is an important reality. I believe there was much more in Nazi Germany than was ever admitted,  but the effect of the famous Fuehrer Decree No 1, whose result was the effect that nothing be mentioned except to a person directly concerned with the matter in question, was to discourage such liaison as far as could be done.

When one leaves the departmental level these divergencies become sharp and acute. In Britain new proposals are brought before a committee of the cabinet and fully discussed. They are then placed on the agenda of the cabinet and discussed…  Finally… it is open to criticism in parliament.

Under the Nazi system there was no effective committee… the Reichs cabinet soon ceased to meet and Parliament – the Reichstag – was a rubber stamp. Under the Fuehrer principle, each minister was directly responsible to Hitler… after 1937, and during the whole of the war, the German cabinet never met at all. The decisions as to Germany’s policy in all fields were taken at the Chancellory or Hitler’s HQs… It followed inevitably from this set up that a ‘yes’ man should become the chief of the O.K.W and that the open door to action should be an acceptance of Hitler’s wishes…

The modern world is too complicated to be run without references to a number of experiences and points of view. There is a superficial attraction in the picture of the strong man relentlessly pursuing his aims uninfluenced and never deflected by the views of others. When, however, he has got the people round him into the state when they are afraid to give their views, they are also afraid to give full information, and without full information the discovery of the best plan is impossible. We all suffer from wishful thinking, but a tyrant also suffers from wishful lack of thought. He will not listen to facts from those whose opinions do not coincide with his own…

When the leadership of a country has been reduced to this state it is confessed that it lacks inspiration. It is equally evident that it lacks efficiency…

Free discussion and criticism give to the minds and hearts of men not only that sinewy strength  which produced the British asset of the extra week when others were exhausted. They  produce also   the moments of clear vision and the retention of moral judgement which are still more necessary to the position of the world.

Prologue to Nuremberg

It was no simple problem that faced us in our early talks. There were three choices open to us.

In his autobiography, David Maxwell Fyfe writes of his first meetings with Justice Robert Jackson of the U S in early June 1945, barely a month after V E Day, as they discussed how the Allies should deal with the War Criminals from World War 2.

It was no simple problem that faced us in our early talks. There were three choices open to us. The first was to let those whom we believed to be major criminals go. In Jackson’s words this would have been to mock the living and insult the dead. Moreover, as we were already punishing those who had carried out the individual crimes, we should have stepped into the position which my predecessor, F. E. Smith, had described in his opinion to the Cabinet in 1918, in Juvenal’s words :

Dat veniam corvis vexat censura columbas.

Censure acquits the raven but fall foul of the dove.


The second choice was executive action, under which Napoleon had been sent to Elba and then to St Helena. This had two classes of supporters. First there was the large and vocal ‘stick’ ’em up against a wall and shoot ’em school. Others who favoured executive action put forward a much subtler argument. They made the point that political trials were always a failure – from Charles I onwards… They insisted that on the actions of the German leaders everyone had already formed both a moral and a political judgement, and therefore unbiased judges could not be found. So they came to the conclusion that the leaders of the victorious powers must kill or imprison those whom they thought guilty and answer for their actions at the bar of history.

What such people had never considered was how this would be done. Either the Allied political leaders or their generals, if the task were devolved in them, would have had to select those who had been guilty of crimes, which would have to have been specified, and decide whether death of imprisonment was the appropriate punishment. Although they could have had the advice of Jackson and myself, and of the French and Russian colleagues who afterwards joined us, what must have been in the end an essentially judicial function would have been performed in a back room without any attempt of the requirement of judicial fairness. In this context, it must be remembered that after months of work in selecting and prosecuting defendants on what seemed to us overwhelming evidence, the Tribunal at Nuremberg found that we were wrong in three cases and acquitted von Papen, Fritzsche and Schacht.

David Maxwell Fyfe and Robert Jackson

The third choice was to select the defendants and give them a hearing. In such event, natural justice demanded that we should inform them clearly what the charges were against them, produce to them the evidence in which these charges were based, and give them a full opportunity of answering them.

This was the view strongly advocated by Jackson and myself. I held that it would be a deplorable beginning to a world in which everyone was looking for the rule of law if we irresponsibly cast it overboard in our first difficult sea. Moreover , martyrs are easy to make as the years pass, and nothing but a public deployment of impregnable evidence of guilt would prevent this retrospective hagiology.

Extract From A Political Adventure, Chapter 8, Prologue to Nuremberg, by David Maxwell Fyfe

Published 1964 Weidenfeld & Nicolson

Why a song cycle?

If you were telling how facts uncovered during the Nuremberg Trials led directly to the post war impulse across Europe to enshrine protection of human rights in law, music might not be an obvious choice…. though it’s the oldest way in the world.

Songwriter Sue Casson explores why David Maxwell Fyfe’s love of poetry, often quoting his favourites to drive home a legal point, made a song cycle the natural choice for a show that tells the story of his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg.

Recently, at a meeting where Tom Blackmore and I were pitching Dreams of Peace & Freedom, which tells the story of Tom’s grandfather, someone asked, ‘why a song cycle?’

It’s a fair question. If you were telling how facts uncovered during the Nuremberg Trials led directly to the post war impulse across Europe to enshrine protection of human rights in law, music might not be an obvious choice.

Although it is the way Tom and I have often chosen to tell a story, and as he would tell you, it’s the oldest way in the world. Troubadors since ancient times have entertained rapt audiences with mythic histories, in verse, in song – often with no more than their voice and whatever instrument was light enough to carry. What’s more, I’m a songwriter, Tom a writer – we write shows like that.

But really, that isn’t the whole story, and neither of us have put together a show quite like this before. For the link between those two important post war events was David Maxwell Fyfe, a well-read Scot, who often turned to poetry in his speeches to illustrate what he wanted to say. 

In his closing at the Nuremberg Trials, David Maxwell Fyfe quoted Rupert Brooke’s War Sonnet V – The Soldier

‘sights and sounds, dreams happy as her day,

And laughter learnt of friends, and gentleness

In hearts at peace’

are not the prerogative of one nation. They are the inalienable heritage of mankind.’

David Maxwell Fyfe quoting Rupert Brooke in his closing at the Nuremberg Trials August 1946

This speech, the first he had made at Nuremberg, and written after he had forensically examined all the evidence and confronted the perpetrators, sets out his commitment to fundamental rights and freedoms, and signals his future involvement in enshrining them in law. It is the fulcrum of his journey from Nuremberg to Strasbourg. And to drive his point home – Maxwell Fyfe, a learned lawyer – quotes a poet: Rupert Brooke. If we were looking for an opportunity to incorporate music directly into his story it was this – poetry that he had chosen, demanding a musical setting.

‘I think that HJ never quite understood why I did, or how I could, prefer the wartime sonnets of Rupert Brooke to those of his hero Wordsworth.’

David Maxwell Fyfe writing about his English teacher at George Watson’s College in his autobiography, A Political Adventure (1964)

With this as our point of inspiration, reading the other four war sonnets in Rupert Brooke’s 1914 collection, published when Fyfe was just fourteen years old, Tom was struck by the way the poetic language expressing Brooke’s idealistic values at the outset of the First World War had filtered through into his grandfather’s speeches.

In his closing at Nuremberg, he not only quotes Brooke directly, but goes on to speak of ‘heritage’, a concept that closes Brooke’s War Sonnet III. As he seeks to create an enforceable treaty to protect human rights after Nuremberg, he champions Safety (War Sonnet II has the same name) and Security, which appears in the same sonnet. Norman Birkett, a British judge at the Nuremberg Trials, goes to considerable trouble to give Fyfe a Scottish poetry collection as a leaving gift, knowing exactly what it will mean to him.

For Maxwell Fyfe delights in finding the imaginative truth through reading, on occasion writing stories and verse himself.

‘romance … is poetry in action. It comes when the inevitable moment finds the inescapable deed,’

David Maxwell Fyfe writing of the tales that defined his childhood in The Watsonion, alumni magazine of George Watson’s College

This almost defines that moment at Nuremberg, when his closing speech expresses an awareness of rights and freedoms for all. A self-confessed romantic of the law, the poetry flows through Fyfe’s conscious and unconscious mind as he expresses what he is seeking to achieve.

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.

Fyfe praised the ‘incomparable songs’ of Scotland, and so musically setting the poetry in his heart beside his spoken words seemed not only effective, but perfectly natural. It represents the imaginative life that informs and reinforces his legal practice. Which is the real reason why his post-war dreams of peace and freedom and how he sought to achieve them, are best brought to life in a song cycle.

Dreams of Peace & Freedom, the fully mastered recording, will be launched in June 2020. Find out more at

Watching History

When we are able to see raw footage of historical events – with our own eyes – as part of the timeline of history, it ensures that these events can never be forgotten.

Robert Blackmore, who has incorporated extracts of archive footage in his editing of The Human’s in the Telling film, describes the emotional impact of seeing history unfold on screen.

A picture paints a thousand words as we are often told. Historical film footage shows us at a glance how people used to be – their style, representation, and stories. Unedited footage so often can tell a story of its own.

One of the most interesting parts of my role in The Human’s in the Telling is editing together the archive footage from the Nuremberg Trials, which we use with great thanks to the people at USHMM.

Watching the material shows me how the desire to film historical events hasn’t changed that much over the years. There has obviously has been an enormous change in technology, and we can now see more detail in colour rather than just black and white. ​​

But our reason for documenting life is not that different. When the Russian army decided to film the liberation of Auschwitz when they entered the camp for the first time, they had to make a moral judgment as to whether it was appropriate to film what they found there.​

They must have decided that without good evidence, we cannot have justice. And with a film, we can look at the bigger picture that affirms the written word for that evidence.​​

I think that if there had not been such extensive filmed footage from Auschwitz, it would have been easier in the years to come to become a  Holocaust denier – the evidence may have been written down, but with the technology we have now, it would be much less strong in the public eye.​​

Nuremberg was not only revolutionary in terms of the law, but it also revolutionized how we see the evidence. ​​

Watching the trials, I often wonder what the response of the judges and the prosecutors would have been at Nuremberg. Even some of the defendants responsible for those terrible events, watching the reality of the Holocaust unfold in front of their very eyes for the first time.

That is why I believe the Allies wanted to film those horrific events. They believed that someday, in some capacity, sometime in the future – there would be an opportunity to show what really happened in Auschwitz.​​

And with developing technology it is a role that Steven Spielberg has taken on – through digitizing the film making it possible to show the past in schools, in museums and through hundreds of documentary films.

In turn, this has empowered people to speak out – they are less afraid of telling their side of the story. One can only wonder at the times in history when cameras were not invented, where its’ course might have been changed by using the power of film. We take it for granted that we can capture anything anywhere at any time now – obviously within reason.​​

When we are able to see raw footage of historical events – with our own eyes – as part of the timeline of history,  it ensures that these events can never be forgotten.

Footage Accessed at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives & Records Administration

Nuremberg : A Modern Miracle

When David Maxwell Fyfe flew out in October 1945, he described the city saying, ‘The old walled town was a heap of ruins.’ Today, however, Nuremberg is a buzzing, metropolitan centre, full of culture and life.

Lily Casson has been researching the life of her great-grandparents, Sylvia and David Maxwell Fyfe with her family for the last decade. Here, she writes her impressions of Nuremberg, which she first visited in April 2009…

Before going to Nuremberg in 2009, I had never been to Germany before. Apart from my patchy school history knowledge of the Second World War, I didn’t have any idea as to what I might discover. It had extra meaning for me, as we were going to find out about my great grandfather, who spent a year there after the war, during the War Crimes Trials as the chief prosecutor of the British team.

Nuremberg, 1945

When Maxwell Fyfe flew out in October 1945, he described the city saying, ‘The old walled town was a heap of ruins.’ Today, however, Nuremberg is a buzzing, metropolitan centre, full of culture and life. It has been rebuilt with care and attention, the buildings have been carefully restored to look new and vibrant. Inside St Sebalds, known as the peace church, an icon of renewal whose towers stayed standing throughout the bombing, the war is remembered with plaques that show the rebuilding process from ruins to the church it is today.

Documentation Centre, Nuremberg, former Nazi Rally Ground

The importance of remembering and confronting the past is at the heart of two museums in the city which tell the story of the Nazis from different perspectives : The Dokumentation Centre, set within the footprint of the Nazi rally ground, which documents the rise of the movement, and Courtroom 600 which brings to life the place where leading Nazis were cross-examined after the war. I, like many of the German schoolchildren who have visited, found it shocking to see the past brought to life where it actually happened.

Market Place, Nuremberg

The willingness of the people of Nuremberg to remember, whilst also moving forward with hope for the future is one of the reasons I love the city so much. Confronting the past with courage and conviction, and learning the lessons of history, it is a testament to the past and an example for the future – truly a modern miracle.

The Cross-Examination : The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

For those familiar with John Ford’s 1962 film, The Man who shot Liberty Valence, America’s Robert Jackson played Ransom Stoddard to David Maxwell Fyfe, Britain’s ‘Tom Domiphon.’

In March 1946, British prosecutor David Maxwell Fyfe cross-examined Hitler’s deputy, Hermann Göring  at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. 2020 marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Trials. Tom Blackmore reflects on the significance of the man who shot Liberty Valance.

Sadiq Khan wrote in the New Statesman some years ago :

“As deputy chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials, Maxwell Fyfe was responsible for one of the most noted cross-examinations in history when Hermann Göring took the stand.”

Sadiq Khan, The New Statesman 2011

Only last year the Faculty of Advocates in Edinburgh described it as

“widely considered the most significant cross-examination of modern times.”

Faculty of Advocates

These are accolades for David Maxwell Fyfe’s performance at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials when he confronted Göring late on the afternoon of March 20th 1946.  

The quotes above pale when compared to the hysteria of the press shortly after these exchanges. 

Guy Ramsay from the Mail wrote :

“Then rose to cross-examine Herman Goering the British Prosecutor, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, his dark hair receding, his heavy face stern, his massive body impressive, his voice steady and controlled.  Ruthless as an entomologist he pinned the squirming wriggling German decisively to every point he strove to evade reducing his sudden spasms of legal quibbling, his spots of rhetoric to the hollow shams they were.  Fyfe’s skills in cross-examination alone saved the reputation of the court.”

Guy Ramsay, The Mail 1946

And Freddy Birkenhead writing as Atticus in The Times went further:

“The British delegation dominates, and the genius of the place is Sir David Maxwell Fyfe, who so far excels the other prosecutors that he has almost played them off the stage.  Indeed his skill in cross-examination has alone prevented the Germans from turning the court into a theatre for the display of patriotic histrionics.”

Atticus, The Times 1946

It can confidently be said that the cross-examination went well, but in the aftermath, its impact grew from being part of the folklore of Nuremberg to igniting dreams of international justice.

The Nuremberg story revolves around the American chief prosecutor Robert Jackson whose vision fuelled the Nuremberg Trials and who set the Tribunal alight with his opening speech. At the time of the Trials, Jackson was a long time away from a Courtroom, rusty at cross-examination, very probably physically impaired, and determined to prove conspiracy between the leading Nazis (conspiracy is hard to prove in a dictatorship in which orders flow one way). Consequently, Göring was able to boss Jackson, who turned to the Tribunal for support and felt let down when none was forthcoming.

For those familiar with John Ford’s 1962 film, The Man who shot Liberty Valence, Jackson played Ransom Stoddard to Maxwell Fyfe’s Tom Domiphon. Jackson’s idealism radiated through the Tribunal as he brought law and order back to a desolate Continent. There was something of the improvised Wild West Court House about Nuremberg. 

The Sketch, 1946

Except of course, that it is Tom Domiphon who shoots Liberty Valence. Maxwell Fyfe acted as chief prosecutor in Nuremberg in the absence of Hartley Shawcross, and he had the British team prepare their cross-examination forensically as they sought to prove murder, aggressive war, and even genocide. 

Maxwell Fyfe spent more time in Court than anyone apart from the judges, he tamed the extraordinary environment of arc lights and translation babble and, he prosecuted what he could prove, usually with the evidence of the Nazis themselves.

And so he shot Liberty Valence.

However, there was a little more to it than that. Rebecca West offered this insight when reporting the trials:

“In the examination and cross-examination of witnesses, Sir David Maxwell Fyfe holds the honors. This gentle and heavily built man, who never exempts himself from the discipline of fairness, drives witness after witness backward, step by step, till on the edge of some moral abyss they admit the truth.”

Rebecca West, New Yorker Magazine 1946

Maxwell Fyfe was fired by his own, very Scottish and very hidden ideals. In this case, it was the desire to reawaken natural justice in Europe. Natural justice depends on fairness and proper procedure to protect the defendants. All qualities that had been in short supply in Nazi Germany.

Jackson was wrong. Europe was no Wild West. It was an epicentre of the civilization of the world. And Europeans had shared values born out of more than a thousand years of neighbourliness and conflict.

Whilst acknowledging that :

“The barbarian is never behind us but always underneath us ready to rise up.”

David Maxwell Fyfe

Maxwell Fyfe later wrote:

“I believe if anyone had suggested to three quarters of the defendants in 1933 that they should do the things they did without a tremor of conscience in 1943, they would have refused with genuine indignation.”

David Maxwell Fyfe

For most of the defendants, there was a moral abyss, and for many, they chose truth, or a version of it, over a descent into that black hole. They felt guilt.

And this was the beginning of the reconciliation of Europe.

As Harold Nicholson wrote

‘In the courtroom at Nuremberg, something more important is happening than the trial of a few captured prisoners. The inhuman is being confronted with the humane, ruthlessness with equity, lawlessness with patient justice, and barbarism with civilisation’. 

Harold Nicholson

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:


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.


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.


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


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.