Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, renowned British legal scholar, dies at 88

Sir Eli, as he was fondly known, was professor emeritus of International Law at Cambridge University, a fellow of Trinity College and founder of the Lauterpacht Center for International Law.

February 12, 2017 22:05
2 minute read.
Sir Elihu Lauterpacht

Sir Elihu Lauterpacht in 2003 at the opening of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea in Hamburg. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, one of the great Jewish giants of international legal scholarship and practice, died last week at the age of 88. He was a first cousin to Aura Herzog, the widow of Israel’s sixth president Chaim Herzog and the mother of opposition leader Isaac Herzog.

Sir Eli, as he was fondly known, was professor emeritus of International Law at Cambridge University, a fellow of Trinity College and founder of the Lauterpacht Center for International Law, established in memory of his father, Sir Hersch Lauterpacht, in 1983.

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Sir Hersch played an active role in the Nuremberg trials, preparing the first drafts for the opening and closing addresses by Chief Prosecutor Sir Hartley Shawcross. He was a member of the UN International Law Commission, a judge in the International Court of Justice and a human rights activist. He married Aura Herzog’s maternal aunt, Rachel Steinberg, a Sabra whom he met in Vienna, where she was studying piano.

Sir Eli was no less famous than his father. A Queen’s Counsel, he was both an academic and a practicing lawyer, who inter alia served as legal adviser to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, was an ad hoc judge appointed by Bosnia and Herzegovina in the charges of Serbian genocide filed in the International Court of Justice, and who, as a member of the World Bank administrative tribunal, made valuable contributions to protect employees’ rights against international and multi-national organizations. Throughout his legal career, he was known for taking on challenging cases that broke new ground.

The Lauterpacht Center at Cambridge was originally called the Research Center for International Law and was directed by Sir Eli until 1995. Following his retirement from teaching law at Cambridge, it was renamed for him and his father.

At first, the center was based in his study on Heschel Road, but thanks to Sir Eli’s leadership and personal generosity, both as a philanthropist and as a mentor, it became a world renowned facility for international legal scholarship.

He maintained his connection with the center following his retirement, and remained the emeritus director, an honorary fellow and a member of the Committee of Management. He regularly attended lectures and events and spoke to legal scholars from England and abroad about their research, always interested and always ready to be consulted on an issue of international law.

After retiring from Cambridge, he continued to give courses at the London School of Economics and The Hague Academy of International Law, and work as an attorney. He retired in 2015.

Widowed with the death of his first wife, Judith, he is survived by his second wife, Cathy, three children from his first marriage – Deborah, Gabriel and Michael – and a son, Conan, from his second marriage.

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