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A Study of the Nuremberg Main Trial

Info: 3138 words (13 pages) Essay
Published: 17th Jul 2019

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Jurisdiction / Tag(s): International Law

In this essay the aptness of the indictments, the matter of jurisdiction and the legality in terms of the fair trial principle will be explored.

The Allies wanted to bring Hitler and his men to justice for instigating WWII and the crimes they committed during it, including the mass murder of Jewish civilians called the Holocaust. The Nuremberg Trial was the result. After discussion, the most appropriate way forward was deemed to be the public trial of the organization and individuals who perpetrated these atrocities. They were conducted from Nuremberg, the one time epicentre of the war movement.

Seven groups who had orchestrated the Nazi programs and twenty-two Nazi officials were tried at the most well known of these. Martin Bormann was put on trial in absentia, Gustav Krupp was not medically fit to be tried and Robert Ley committed suicide before he stood trial. Furthermore, a good number of the Nazi leaders like Goedbbels, Himmler, and Hitler had committed suicide when the war finished and so could not face trial.

‘Beginning in 1942, when news of wartime atrocities flooded Western news media, the leaders began to formulate a common policy over several years of negotiations. Eventually, the Allies decided on an international trial to be held under the auspices of the four principal Allied powers – the Americans, British, French and Soviets’ [1] . First of all, the rules governing the trial needed to be decided. The countries created a procedure which combined elements from all of their systems. Those to be tried were granted the right to be give evidence to defend themselves, call witnesses and be represented by counsel, however, they did not have the right to a trial by jury, a law only in the U.K and U.S.. Lastly, upon the presentation of all evidence, and without being cross-examined or sworn, those being tried were allowed to give statements to the court

The indictment followed this, a statement charging each individual on trial. Defendants were charged with four kinds of crimes including war crimes, conspiracy against peace, crimes against peace, and crimes against humanity. In beginning the war, the Allies accused the Nazis of purposely breaking the international treaties which Germany had signed. The Holocaust was deemed a crime against humanity. It is worth noting that not all of those being tried were charged with all of these crimes, for example, Scharcht, Roeder and Doenitz were not tried for involvment in the Holocaust.

It is important to consider the Nuremberg Trial’s jurisdiction and the manner in which the tribunal was brought together in relation to criminal law at an international level. In Moscow in1943 a great watershed moment for international criminal law occurred: ‘the Allies initially issued a declaration which promised punishment for ? war criminals, but stated that this was without prejudice to the case of the major criminals whose offences have no particular geographical location and who will be punished by a joint declaration of the government of the Allies’ [2] . The key players in the Alliance concluded after some discussion that this was the most appropriate form of prosecution. It became the London Charter as it was drafted there and created the basis fo the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal (IMT). The four countries did not always agree, however, because ‘the USSR thought that the purpose of the tribunal was simply to determine the punishment to be meted out to the defendants, who they thought were to be presumed guilty’ [3] . Clearly, this would not be acceptable considering the variances in civil law between the Allies such as, for example, the fact that the American and British civil laws forbade the assumption of guilt without fair trial.

The trial was held before a panel of eight judges which were selected by the Allies and formed the tribunal. The president of the tribunal was Lord Laurence, a British judge. ‘The defence was undertaken by a number of German lawyers, the leading lights of whom were Hemmen Jahriess, an international lawyer from Cologne and Otto Kranzbühlle, a naval judge-advocate’ [4] .

There have been many arguments about the legitimacy of the Nuremberg Trials, however, many would agree that this tribunal was the most effective for these types of crimes. Nuremberg stands for much more than the International Military Tribunal and its work, or even the wider process of judging Nazi war criminals in the wake of the Second World War. Nuremberg conjures up the moral and legal issues raised by applying judicial methods and decisions to challenge ? ?’ [5] . It is clear that the Nuremberg Trial set a positive precedent for international criminal law throughout the world as it brought to justice those who were involved in mass murder. International jurisdiction is important in a proceeding such as dealing with the Nazis’ crimes because of the impact it has across the world. The Allies presented multiple evidence which consisted mostly of ? and documents of the Nazis themselves. During the investigation that led to the trial, the U.S. and British investigations had discovered mass amounts of documents which proved the charges against the defendants. The decision was made, therefore, to rely on the words of the defendants themselves in the trial. There is an argument, however, that suggests that the Nuremberg Trial is an example of ‘victor’s justice’. This basically means that the trial itself is not fair (something that will be reviewed later in this paper), ‘in particular that the judges are biased against the accused, that the applicable law is designed to guarantee a conviction’ [6] . This therefore suggests that the tribunal cannot be regarded as a true ? because ‘its members represent the victorious Allied nations, they must lack that impartiality which is essential in all judicial procedure’ [7] . This is a ? argument because it suggests that only neutrals can ‘try’ a fair case. The argument is flawed when compared to every countries’ laws. This is because a criminal cannot complain about who is trying him ? in a jury.

The Nuremberg Trials would always prove to be a success as all the Allies had one common goal, to bring to justice the true perpetrators of the Second World War and punish them for their crimes. Another major factor that needs to be considered in the Nuremberg Trials is that of fairness. Arthur L. Goodhart identifies that there are three main ? factors that illustrate that this trial was fair. The first of these relates to the true characteristics or, more importantly, the professional characteristics of the judges. ‘Although the court is being described as being “the International Military Tribunal”, its members are not professional soldiers but legal experts who have been trained in the evaluation of evidence’ [8] . Many thought that the true nature of the judges would be disguised as major-generals but it was clear that it was essential to convey their true legal nature.

The second factor that proves that the Nuremberg Trial was a fair proceeding was that it was conducted within the full view of the world on a public stage and thus ‘in such circumstances it would be almost impossible for a tribunal to act in an obviously unfair manner’ [9] . Thus, if the Nuremberg IMT was in any way trying to stage a false trial, the entire world would be witness to this ? making this impossible to carry out. An extract from the Nuremberg Diary by Hans Frank G. M. Gilbert, which contains an extract from Hans Frank whilst on trial in his cell, clearly conveys the entire guilt of the Nazis:

‘Yes, Fritzsche and Speer too, it is such a torture to sit through the trial – such horrible things are laid coldly before us and before the world – things we knew, things we didn’t know; things we didn’t want to know – And one just sinks in ? ? – ! [10]

This shows the level of shame that Hans Frank had when evidence was being given against him and his fellow Nazis on trial. This further testifies to the fact that the Nuremberg trials were conducted in the correct manner.

The third important factor that needs to be considered in concluding the fairness of this trial relates to Article 26 of the Charter. This states that ‘the judgment of the tribunal as to the guilt or the innocence of an defendant shall give the reasons on which it is based ? and shall be ? and not subject to review’ [11] . This is much stricter than what is usually practical in national courts as a verdict of guilt is usually accepted as fair and sufficient, thus guaranteeing fairness. This is because in such a case a judge knows that their judgment will be open to public views both at the present time and in the future. Therefore the judges in the Nuremberg Trial effectively satisfied this clause by their characteristics and the way in which they operated within the IMT.

Another political landmark in the Nuremberg Trials is the way in which, quite apart from the ? of the ‘legal technicalities’, it is highly regarded and politically accepted. This is because ‘the chief arguments usually given for this quasi-judicial trial are that it gives the culprits a chance to say anything that can be said on their behalf, that it gives both the world today and the world tomorrow a chance to see the justice of the Allied cause and the wickedness of the Nazis, and that it sets a firm foundation for a future world order wherein individuals will know that if they embark on schemes of aggression or murder or torture or persecution they will be severely dealt with by the world’ [12] .

This statement effectively portrays the positive aspect of trying these offenders in the dock. This is because the defendants, after seeing and hearing evidence against them, have a chance, with the aid of their defence counsel, to challenge and make statements on their own behalf without the possibility of torture. This makes the trial more fair and convincing for all, illustrating the full liability to ? of the Nazis.


It is important to consider the appropriateness of the charges and indictments laid on the individuals on trial at the Nuremberg trial. The crimes charged are contained in Article 6 of the Charter (crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity):

Crimes against peace: namely planning, preparation, initiation or waging of war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties…

War crimes: namely violations of the law or customs of war…

Crimes against humanity: namely murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population before or during the war… [13]

The above quotation illustrates the legislation which the International Military Tribunal must follow with the guidance of the Charter. ‘It must determine the guilt or innocence of the defendants, not according to discretion, but in accordance with these specific rules’ [14] . This shows that it was a fair trial because if the conclusion is that one or any of the defendants are believed to have committed any of these charges listed in the Charter, the defendant must be guilty. This conveys, therefore, that the IMT shows how legal and humane the ? is. This is because it follows the same principles of today’s English High Courts.

If we look at the definition of ‘crimes against humanity’ and its definition in the Nuremberg Charter, we can see that the Allied nations believed that these were the current charges to tackle the mass murders and crimes committed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. There are several features that have not be noted within this definition. The definition of ‘crimes against humanity’ references ‘any’ civilian population, therefore, in effect stating that crimes against a particular ? ? population would be included. ‘This was a major advancement, given that at the times, prior to the advent of the human rights movement, international law generally regulated conduct between States and said little about a government’s treatment of its own citizens’ [15] .

Another very positive feature of the Charter’s definition is the particular connection between all of the meanings. ‘War crimes or the crime of aggression’ suggested that ‘crimes against humanity’ could only ever take place with there being a ? with ‘armed conflict’. This also adds to the terminology in reference to ‘population’ as it was believed to mean ? scale but was never specified in the Charter. In conclusion, suggesting large-scale crime.

In the final judgment, three defendants, Van Pajen, Schacht and Fritzche, were acquitted entirely. Eleven of the other defendants were acquitted of some of the charges against them. Hes was acquitted of the charge of participating in the Holocaust and other war crimes. Twelve of the defendants were found guilty and sentenced to death. Georj committed suicide and Bormann was never found. Those sentenced to death were hung on October 16, 1946.

There exists a great deal of controversy as to whether the Nuremberg Trial indictments created new crimes or whether they already existed. Many commentators believe new crimes were created setting a precedent for the future of International Criminal Courts. Many argue, however, that the principle of non-retroactivity ‘had to give way to the overriding need for accountability for large scale murder and atrocities recognized as criminal by all nations (the Allies)’ [16] . This argument, arguably, has been held up in the ? judgments in the Nuremberg Trial as many scholars believe that crimes against humanity and war crimes provided a fairly basic and distorted argument at trial. However, this argument can be ? because ‘Jewish groups had argued ? for inclusion and up to the beginning of the London conference the American drafts suggested that crimes against humanity would extend to the beginning of the Nazi era’ [17] . Therefore, it would appear that this indictment was a true charge over jurisdiction within Germany as the Nazis were indeed guilty of this crime due to the overwhelming evidence (i.e. exterminations, enslavement in the concentration camps and so forth) and witnesses.

In conclusion, it is clear that the Nuremberg Trial was set in a fair practice within a legal frame. The trial had to take place and was fair because it stayed within the ‘protocols’ of democracy. As Antonio Cassroe states ‘no one can be considered guilty until his crimes have been proved in a fair trail. To relinquish such a fundamental principle would have put the Allies on a par with the Nazis who had ridden rough shod over so many principles of justice and civilization when they had held mock trials or punished those allegedly guilty without even the benefit of judicial process’ [18] . Thus we can see that if the Allies did not form the IMT and simply prosecuted the Nazis without a trial would simply be as ? as they had been in World War II. This point also clarifies that the Allies were best to try the Nazis as World War II and the Nazis had caused mass destruction worldwide.

International Criminal Law

The Nuremberg Trial has also been successful in making a ? impression on worldwide opinion. ? to the world that such crimes as ‘racism and totalitarianism’ that were orchestrated by the Nazis would not be tolerated. ‘Thus, the trial added to the world ‘tragic historical phenomena plainly visible’ [19] in the form of the trials. This has had a positive impact on the future such as the case of Sadaam Hussein; when he was captured by the U.S. Government, he was punished and his trial was made public globally.

As well as being a great piece of history and setting a precedent for the future, the Nuremberg Trial has acted for posterity. ‘The crimes committed by the Third Reich and its Nazi officials were so appalling that some detailed record had to be left’ [20] . The IMT proved this theory as an international trial, held on a large scale tribunal did not only ? useful in ?, but for a part of history and for the future of ? international criminal law.

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International law, also known as public international law and the law of nations, is the set of rules, norms, and standards generally accepted in relations between nations. International law is studied as a distinctive part of the general structure of international relations.

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