It is March 1946, and the prosecutors at Nuremburg have encountered a difficulty.
Their prize defendant is Goering. But the first prosecuting lawyer, an American called Jackson, has just made a complete mess of his cross-examination. The questions had been too general and the defendant, sobered up and mentally fit after several months' imprisonment, had found it easy to be canny and evasive in his answers.
If Goering is now convicted, it would not be (or seen to be) on the basis of his court testimony; but for him not to be convicted would be unthinkable.
This was a serious problem.
One of the British lawyers at Nuremburg was a then little-known Conservative politician, Sir David Maxwell-Fyfe.
It was now his turn to cross-examine Goering.
He adopted a very different approach to the vapid generalizations of the hapless Jackson.
Maxwell-Fyfe instead focused on particular instances, notably the shooting of escaped RAF prisoners of war (later featured in the film Great Escape). He concentrated on documents; he asked detailed and closed questions; in short, he controlled the witness and the course of the examination.
Against this approach, Goering simply had no where to go, and by the end of Maxwell-Fyfe's sequence of questions, Goering's complicity in serious criminal acts was clear.
There is footage of the cross-examination here and a transcript here.
It was reading about this cross-examination which first made me want to be a lawyer: that precise questioning and attention to detail in respect of those who abuse power is an effective way of ensuring that there is accountability and justice.
After the war, and to his credit, Maxwell-Fyfe helped write the European Convention on Human Rights.
Sadly, however, he then became one of the most illiberal Home Secretaries and Lord Chancellors in modern British history.
It is a fair question whether his awful record in office offsets his accomplishments at Nuremburg and with the ECHR.
But, that said, his clinical demolition of Goering remains one of the great achievements of advocacy.
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