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Keywords:

  • justice;
  • aristocracy;
  • manslaughter;
  • homicide;
  • house of lords;
  • class;
  • trial

The year 1935 was an ominous year for European peace. Hitler's Germany began to rearm; Mussolini's Italy provoked a major diplomatic crisis by invading Abyssinia. Against this background it seemed extraordinary that Edward Russell, 26th Baron de Clifford, had to be tried for manslaughter by his peers in the house of lords. Such trials of peers had once been perceived as powerful theatrical examples of the place of the aristocracy in British society. By 1935, de Clifford's trial, the last ever of a peer in the house of lords, was an anachronism and his ultimate acquittal seemed like an outdated piece of class justice. Behind the scenes of an apparent farce in which justice was to be administered by men garbed in pantomime robes, there was, however, a serious issue about interpreting the law of manslaughter, which sparked a concerted, but clandestine, attempt by the then director of public prosecutions to undermine the credibility of the lord chief justice.