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The Dying Embers of an Outdated Privilege: The 1935 Trial of Lord de Clifford in the House of Lords


  • Ruth Paley

  • Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Geographies of Justice Symposium, Reading, 2008 and at the British Legal History Conference, 2011. I am grateful to the participants for their comments and suggestions.


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trial, the last ever of a peer in the house of lords, was an anachronism and his ultimate acquittal seemed like an outdated piece of class justice.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.