Sir Elihu Lauterpacht
International lawyer who helped draft the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel
ONE OF the most distinguished legal scholars of his generation, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, who has died aged 88, was noted for championing employees’ rights against the might of international business conglomerates.
He fought for workers’ rights during his time as a member of the administrative tribunal of the World Bank between 1980 and 1998. In 1993, he played a decisive part in the genociderelated prosecution of Serbia before the International Court of Justice.
As an ad hoc judge appointed by Bosnia-Herzegovina he consistently ruled in favour of the rights of individuals against the apparently overriding priorities of a sovereign state. Two years later, as an advocate, he argued the case for New Zealand in its challenge to French nuclear testing in the South Pacific: this case resulted in the ICJ’s recognition that the protection of the environment was part-and-parcel of international law.
Born in Cricklewood,north-west London,Lauterpacht was the only child of Palestinian pianist Rachel Steinberg and her husband Hersch Lauterpacht, a native of Zolkiew (in present-day Ukraine) who, in 1937 had been appointed Whewell Professor of International Law at Cambridge and in 1955, the British representative on the International Court of Justice. The young Elihu was thus brought up in a home suffused with the theory and practice of international law. In 1941, he was evacuated to the USA. On his return to England, he attended Harrow School and then Trinity College, Cambridge, initially to study history but then switching to law. In 1949, he graduated with a First in the Law Tripos, and followed this with a First in the LLB. But whereas the distinguished father had specialised in the theoretical aspects of international legal systems, the son — perhaps mindful of the fact that almost all his paternal family had been murdered in the Holocaust — inclined towards their practical application.
In 1953, Lauterpacht was elected to a fellowship at Trinity College, which remained his academic home for the rest of his life. In 1960, he commenced editing the International Law Reports, which remain a basic work of reference in this field. In 1983, he established (initially in his study) what subsequently became the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law. He became an honorary professor in Cambridge’s law faculty in 1994. As well as teaching, he wrote extensively on the administration of international justice, published a multi-volume edition of his father’s collected papers and, in 2010, a wellreceived biography of his father.
But it was the practical — and progressive — application of international law that remained his abiding passion. Called to the bar at Gray’s Inn in 1950, he helped draft the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and the 1994 peace treaty between Jordan and Israel. He played a major role in the peaceful settlement of a land dispute between Israel and Egypt and — in 1996 — in the Conservative government’s decision to reject an application to construct a nuclear waste depository in rural Cumbria.
Throughout his life, Lauterpacht retained a warm affection for the state of Israel (whose Declaration of Independence his father had helped draft). He was the first cousin of Aura Herzog, widow of Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog. From 1972 until 1975, Lauterpacht served as Consultant on International Law on the UK Central Policy Review staff, and between 1975 and 1978 acted as Legal Adviser to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs. Appointed a QC in 1970, he was awarded a CBE in 1989 and was knighted in 1998.
His first wife, Judith Hettinger, died in 1970. He subsequently married Catherine Daly. She survives him, as do their son, the three children of his first marriage, and seven grandchildren. GEOFFREY ALDERMAN