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War Crimes (Trial Procedure)

Volume 411: debated on Tuesday 29 May 1945

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asked the Prime Minister what organisations have been set up and what is the procedure for the trial of war criminals; and what, in this connection, are the respective functions of the Allied Control Commission, the War Crimes Commission, the Judge Advocate-General, the Attorney-General and the Treasury Solicitor's office.

As the reply to this Question is long and detailed, I will, with permission, circulate it in the OFFICIAL REPORT. I should, however, like to take this opportunity of announcing that my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has been appointed as the representative of the United Kingdom, to join with Justice Robert Jackson, of the United States, and with the Soviet and French representatives when they are apointed, in preparing and prosecuting charges of atrocities and war crimes against such leaders of the European Axis Powers and other principal agents and accessories as the Government of the United Kingdom may agree with any of the United Nations to bring to trial before an Inter-Allied Military Tribunal.

Does not my right hon. Friend think that in relation to the notorious Nazi leaders the tangled machinery of trial is an inappropriate farce? Will he not ensure that they are despatched with the maximum speed; and, pending that desirable event, will he see that they are maintained in prison cells, and not in hotels?

As I anticipated some time ago, a good many cases seem to have been settled by local adjustment. So far as the greater Powers are concerned, the movement of thought has tended towards the establishment of a military tribunal.

Does my right hon. Friend recognise the great urgency of this matter, and that these trials ought to be proceeded with as soon as possible?

They ought not to be proceeded with until they have been properly arranged and the methods agreed between the four great Powers.

Are we to understand that all these Nazi criminals will be having a supply of champagne and chicken and so on?

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that the proceedings that ensue will not be of the character of those instituted by the Norwegian Government against Quisling, but will be short and spectacular?

I should hesitate to criticise a friendly Government, newly re-established, because, while implacably pursuing justice, they have shown a dignified absence of primal fury and violence.

However it may be with Mr. Quisling, could the Prime Minister give a rough estimate of how long it will take to despatch Field-Marshal Goering to his proper destination?

I do not know more than I did the day before yesterday, when I shared this want of knowledge with the right hon. Gentleman.

Following is the reply:

Under the terms of the Moscow Declaration on German Atrocities, published on 1st November, 1943, those major war criminals whose crimes have no particular geographical localisation will be punished by a joint decision of the Governments of the Allies, and discussions are at present in active progress with a view to deciding the best procedure.

As regards criminals who are accused of having taken part in specific war crimes against Allied nationals, the Moscow Declaration laid down that they should be sent back to the countries in which their offences were committed, in order that they might be judged and punished there by the Governments concerned. So far as concerns those who have been guilty of crimes against British subjects, the procedure is that the charges brought against them are examined by the United Kingdom National Office, of which the Treasury Solicitor is the head, and submitted by him to the War Crimes Commission. The Judge Advocate-General will be responsible for the collection of evidence against and the prosecution of these criminals before military courts. The Attorney-General exercises a supervisory role in matters relating to war crimes which concern His Majesty's Government, and, in particular, in prosecutions against persons who have committed alleged war crimes against British subjects. His fiat is required for any such prosecutions. In addition, as I have to-day told the House, he has been appointed as the United Kingdom representative for the prosecution of such war criminals as may be brought before the proposed Inter-Allied Military Tribunal.

The functions of the United Nations War Crimes Commission were described by my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor in his speech to another place on 7th October, 1942, when he proposed the establishment of this body. The Commission is principally concerned with the drawing up of lists of persons alleged to have committed war crimes, on the basis of material which is normally submitted to it by the various National Offices of the Allies represented upon it. Arrangements are being made for these lists to be forwarded to Allied commanders in the field, and the lists will, I am sure, prove of very considerable use to them in ensuring that all these criminals are detained as a preliminary to their appropriate disposal.

The Allied Control Commission will, when established, be generally responsible for the administration of justice in Germany, but it is not at present envisaged that Control Commission courts will deal with war crimes against British subjects.