Friday, 13 September 2013

The Great Defenders - Sir Edward Marshall Hall

I wish to cover a couple of the great legal defenders Britain had in the first half of the twentieth century and the first in line was the man dubbed "The Great Defender" - Sir Edward Marshall Hall.  He was a formidable orator in the courtroom, but it has been said that he used his personality, flamboyance and oratory skills because he was not a truly great legal brain, but some of his defences really contradict this theme.

    He was born on September 16th 1858 in Brighton, and later attended the prestigious Rugby School and then St. Johns College, in Cambridge, studying for his Law Degree.  But at the end of his fourth year, he decided to tale a "gap year" spending time in both Paris and Australia before returning to Cambridge to finish his studies.  In 1882, he married Ethel Moon, but the marriage was not a happy one and they separated in 1889.  A scandal broke when it was discovered that Ethel had been made pregnant by a lover, and she went for an abortion which went tragically wrong and she died.  The lover, the abortionist and several other people were tried for murder.  Hall must have felt some responsibility for Ethel because he became an impassioned defender of women who had suffered at the hands of men.  His most infamous case years later was to bare this out.  He remarried, to Henriette Kroeger and they had one daughter, Elna.

    It was in the twentieth century that Hall came into his own as a barrister.  In 1901, he unsuccessfully defended Herbert Bennett for the Yarmouth Beach Murder.  In 1907, came the Camden Town murder and the defending of Robert Wood for the murder of Emily Dimmock.  Wood was acquitted.  He was offered the brief to defend Dr Crippen but was unhappy with the defence that Crippen wanted to present and so declined it.  In 1912 came the case of Frederick Seddon charged with poisoning Eliza Barrow.  Hall argued against the medical findings but Seddon insisted on going into the witness box, against his advice, and his performance in the witness box went against him and he was executed.  Hall believed that if he had sat in the dock, he would have been acquitted.

    During the hostilities of World War 1, he had to defend serial killer George Smith, later dubbed "The Brides in the Bath Murderer" but it was pathologist Bernard Spilsbury that clearly won the case for the prosecution, arranging for a notorious demonstration in the court of how he believed Smith drowned three wives in the bath. Smith was hanged. After hostilities, he was involved in the "Green Bicycle Murder" defending Ronald Light at Leicester in 1919 for the murder of Bella Wright.  His closing argument won the day, and Light lived on until 1975.  1920 saw him defending Solicitor Harold Greenwood for poisoning his wife, at Carmarthen Assizes.  He won Greenwood an acquittal that Gerald Sparrow, later a well known judge,said Hall`s closing argument was the finest ever heard in a court.

    It was 1923 that brought Hall`s most infamous case; The Murder at The Savoy.  He was defending Marguerite Fahmy, the wife of Egyptian Prince, Fahmy Bey.  Hall depicted Bey as a foreigner inflicting his peculiar sexual habits on a white woman, and that she had to defend herself.  Today, it would be acknowledged as a totally racial slur on the victim, a deliberate destroying of his character but it worked .  Marguerite Fahmy was acquitted.

    Outside of the Bar, Hall dabbled in politics and represented Southport as a Unionist MP from 1900 - 1906.  Hall died from pneumonia in 1928.

UPDATE:  Sources can be wrong so a reassessment of Marshall Hall`s offering of the brief concerning Dr Crippen is here.  According to the memoirs of Hall`s clerk, Bowker "Behind the Bar" (1947) Solicitor Arthur Newton called at Hall`s chambers whilst he was absent, offering the brief but the fee would not be paid until after the trial so "certain arrangements could be made."  Bowker turned it down.  Upon his return, Hall agreed with the decision of Bowker.  He later deduced the fee would be paid, depending on the sale of the story.   Thank you to S.B.