Henry Cecil Leon

British barrister, judge and writer

1902   -   1976

country of citizenship: United Kingdom, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
language of expression: British English
educated at: St Paul's School
occupation: judge

Henry Cecil Leon (19 September 1902 – 23 May 1976), who wrote under the pen-names Henry Cecil and Clifford Maxwell, was a judge and a writer of fiction about the British legal system. He was born near London in 1902 and was called to the Bar in 1923. Later in 1949 he was appointed a County Court Judge, a position he held until 1967. He used these experiences as inspiration for his work. His books typically feature educated and genteel fraudsters and blackmailers who lay ludicrously ingenious plots exploiting loopholes in the legal system. There are several recurring characters, such as the drunken solicitor Mr Tewkesbury and the convoluted and exasperating witness Colonel Brain. He writes well about the judicial process, usually through the eyes of a young barrister but sometimes from the viewpoint of the judge; Friends at Court contains a memorable snub from a County Court judge to a barrister who is trying to patronise him. Cecil did not believe that judges should be too remote from the public: in Sober as a Judge, a High Court judge, in a case where the ingredients of a martini are of some importance, states drily that he will ignore the convention by which he should inquire "what is a martini?" and instead gives the recipe for the cocktail himself. His 1955 novel Brothers in Law was made into a film in 1957 and, later, a television and radio series starring Richard Briers. While at Paramount Pictures, Alfred Hitchcock worked on adapting No Bail for the Judge for the screen several times between 1954 and 1960, and hoped to co-star Audrey Hepburn, Laurence Harvey, and John Williams, but the film was never produced. He also reviewed the Rowland case in the Celebrated Trials series published by David & Charles in 1975. The 1946 trial of Walter Rowland was for the murder of Olive Balchin, who had been found battered to death on a bomb site on Deansgate, Manchester. A hammer had been found near the body, and the police identified Rowland with three witnesses. He was found guilty and hanged at Strangeways Prison in 1947. He protested his innocence from the dock and afterwards. After the trial, another man confessed to the killing, but his evidence was ignored when the original judgment was reviewed by the Court of Criminal Appeal. Henry Cecil concludes in his book that Rowland was indeed guilty, although Cecil ignores the forensic evidence, or rather the absence of forensic evidence, linking Rowland to the crime scene. His book reveals the many prejudices of the judiciary in the 1970s, including the complete acceptance of police evidence at face value, for example.
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