Sir Edward Marshall Hall, (16 September 1858 - 24 February 1927) was an English barrister who had a formidable reputation as an orator. He successfully defended many people accused of notorious murders and became known as "The Great Defender".
Marshall Hall practised as a barrister in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, when the public took a great interest in the sensational court cases of the day. Big criminal and civil trials were widely reported on by the popular press on a daily basis. As a consequence, he and other successful barristers of the day became very famous. The widespread belief that he was a much better orator than lawyer may explain his failure to achieve elevation to the High Court, which was a source of great disappointment to him.
Born in Brighton, the son of the eminent physician Alfred Hall, Marshall Hall was educated at Rugby School and St John's College, Cambridge. Unusually, he left Cambridge after his fourth term to embark on what would now be regarded as a gap year in Paris and Australia, before returning to complete his law degree. In 1882 he married Ethel Moon. The marriage was unhappy; the couple were never compatible and were frequently separated. They were legally separated in 1889. The next year Ethel became pregnant by a lover and died of a botched abortion; a seamy, very public lawsuit followed in which the lover, the abortionist, and several others were indicted for Ethel's murder. Marshall Hall's guilt over his part in Ethel's fate would have a profound effect on his career: he would become famous for the impassioned nature of his defences of women maltreated by men. He subsequently married Henriette "Hetty" Kroeger, with whom he had one daughter, Elna.
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In November 1907 Marshall Hall was briefed in a case which contributed significantly towards his being painted with such titles as "The Great Defender". On 12 September 1907, Bertram Shaw returned home during the evening to find his room locked. He borrowed a key from a neighbour, but upon entering was greeted with the horrific sight of his fiancée Emily Dimmock (known as Phyllis) lying naked on the bed, throat cut from ear to ear. It was a savage but skilful attack on her from the nature of the wound. Nothing much had been taken from the flat, and the motive was a mystery; the case quickly became a sensation.
After initial difficulty the police investigation led by Inspector Neill centred on a Robert Wood. Wood was in a relationship with Ruby Young, who recognised his handwriting on a postcard found in Dimmock's room. Wood was put on trial for the murder, during which Marshall Hall displayed the kind of effective and dramatic cross examination that he was known for. Marshall Hall was convinced of Wood's innocence, and also of the fallibility of the prosecution case. Great progress was made with the prosecution witnesses, but real consideration was given to the issue of whether Wood should give evidence in his defence by Marshall Hall and his junior Wellesley Orr. The relevance of their dissension over his testifying soon became apparent as Wood was a bad witness.
Marshall Hall dramatically commenced his examination in chief with: "Robert Wood, did you kill Emily Dimmock?" Wood remained silent. He was said to be a vain young man who could not cast aside his affectations; he appeared a "poseur". Marshall Hall repeated the question; "You must answer straight," he said. Foolishly Wood answered, "I mean, it is ridiculous," leaving Marshall Hall distressed. The rest of Wood's evidence proceeded in this way. He was later cross-examined by the might of the senior Treasury Counsel, Sir Charles Mathews, a mismatch if ever there was one. But in the end, Wood's silly little boy foolishness perhaps played in his favour; could he really have murdered Emily Dimmock?
Marshall Hall addressed the jury in usual style, as did Sir Charles Mathews. Mr Justice Grantham, however, mid-summing up departed from the pro-conviction stance he was expected to take, making it clear he thought the jury should acquit. That they did, after retiring for only 15 minutes between 7.45 and 8pm.
Marshall Hall's spirited defence had persuaded almost all in court of Wood's innocence and had caused a huge crowd to gather outside of court. The huge cheer that went up in the courtroom was repeated outside. Marshall Hall had saved Wood from the gallows.
One of his most famous cases was R v Light, known as the Green Bicycle Case, which took place near Leicester in 1919. He obtained an acquittal, despite what seemed like overwhelming circumstantial evidence against the defendant. This evidence included: the fact that the defendant, Ronald Light, had been seen cycling with the victim, Bella Wright, on the day of her death, on a green bicycle; had possessed at one time a revolver similar to the one used to fire the shot that killed her; had discarded that green bicycle in the canal after filing off all of the identifying numbers; and had thrown away a holster and ammunition for the type of revolver used in the murder. He also lied to police. A full transcript of the evidence and submissions of counsel do not appear to have survived, but from what remains of the closing speech of Marshall Hall, he took advantage of the Crown's lack of a case-theory to take their case to its logical conclusion and then demolish it. He submitted that the prosecution case only held together if the entire murder was premeditated. It was the prosecution evidence, indeed the hearsay evidence of the dead victim, that Ronald Light was not known to Bella Wright. How could he then have planned her murder? Marshall Hall used this, and many other points to persuade the jury that they could not be sure that Light was the murderer. The jury returned a unanimous verdict of not guilty after a little over three hours.
In 1894 he defended the Austrian-born prostitute Marie Hermann, charged with the murder of a client; Marshall Hall persuaded the jury that it was a case of manslaughter. Although he made full use of his forensic skills, the case is best remembered for his emotional plea to the jury: "Look at her, gentlemen... God never gave her a chance - won't you?"
In 1901 he unsuccessfully defended Herbert John Bennett in the Yarmouth Beach case. Bennett was charged with strangling his wife, Mary, in order to marry Alice Meadows. At a late stage in the trial Marshall Hall dramatically produced an alibi witness, Sholto Douglas, who testified that on the day of the murder he had met Bennett in Bexley, after the last train for Yarmouth had departed. Douglas was clearly a truthful witness but he had never met Bennett before the date of the murder and the prosecution easily convinced the jury that he had made an honest mistake (which was also Marshall Hall's private opinion). The defence was weakened by the absence of any other suspect or motive, and by the fact that Bennett was such an obvious liar that he could not safely be put into the witness box. Curiously enough Marshall Hall, despite the overwhelming evidence, was never entirely sure of Bennett's guilt.
Marshall Hall was also given the brief to represent Dr Crippen at his trial in 1910. However, Crippen provided instructions that Marshall Hall did not feel comfortable with; Crippen would not adopt the line of defence that Marshall Hall felt represented the truth of the matter. As a result, Marshall Hall returned the brief and other counsel appeared at Crippen's trial at the Old Bailey. Arthur Newton instructed Marshall Hall on this occasion as he often did.
Marshall Hall defended Frederick Seddon unsuccessfully in a notorious poisoning case in 1912. Seddon was hanged in 1912 for murdering Elizabeth Mary Barrow by administering large quantities of arsenic. Marshall Hall's challenge to the medical evidence, though showing an impressive grasp of the subject, was unsuccessful. Seddon, rather against counsel's wishes, insisted on giving evidence, and made a very bad impression. His manner struck observers as cold and unfeeling, and his obvious greed weakened the defence that the money he gained from Miss Barrow's death was not enough to tempt him to murder. Marshall Hall in later years said that Seddon would have been acquitted if he had not insisted on giving evidence.
Marshall Hall also defended George Joseph Smith the "Brides-in-the-Bath" murderer in 1915. Smith was tried for the first of three identical murders of his recent brides, all of whom were drowned while having baths. Despite a spirited defence by Marshall Hall, Smith was convicted and hanged, again largely due to key evidence from Sir Bernard Spilsbury. The case however does seem to contradict the widespread view that he was "not much of a lawyer"--rather he disliked legal argument but could make a good one if necessary.
Marshall Hall successfully defended solicitor Harold Greenwood at Carmarthen Assizes in 1920. Greenwood had been accused of poisoning his wife with arsenic. Marshall Hall's skillful cross-examination of the medical witnesses raised, at least, the possibility that Mrs. Greenwood had died from an accidental overdose of morphine. His closing speech for the defence was described by Gerald Sparrow as "the finest ever heard at the English bar", the more impressive since Marshall Hall was seriously ill at the time.
Equally successful was the defence Marshall Hall gave to Madame (or Princess) Marguerite Fahmy in 1923 for the shooting death of her husband, Egyptian Prince Fahmy Bey at London's Savoy Hotel. The death of the Prince is frequently on lists of victims of the so-called Curse of the Pharaohs. Marshall Hall brought out Prince Fahmy's race and sexual habits, painting the victim as an evil-minded foreigner who threatened a "white woman" for sexual reasons, whereupon she defended herself. The jury accepted it. The Egyptian ambassador wrote several angry letters to the newspapers criticizing Marshall Hall's blackening of the victim and Egyptians in general. In any case Madame Fahmy was acquitted. In his 2013 book The Prince, The Princess and the Perfect Murder (published in the US as "The Woman Before Wallis") Andrew Rose revealed that Madame Fahmy, real name Marguerite Alibert, a Frenchwoman of modest birth, had an 18-month long affair with the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, in Paris towards the end of World War I. Desperate efforts were made by the Royal Household to ensure that the Prince's name was not mentioned at her trial, which may have contributed to her acquittal.
In July 1924, Marshall Hall made a rare appearance for the prosecution, with the Attorney General Sir Patrick Hastings leading at Guildford Assizes before Mr Justice Avory against Jean-Pierre Vaquier for poisoning his lover's husband. Vaquier was found guilty and hanged by Robert Baxter.
As well as being elevated to King's Counsel, Marshall Hall served twice in Parliament as a Unionist Member of Parliament for Southport (1900-1906) and for Liverpool East Toxteth (1910-1916). To the great disappointment of the public, he rarely spoke in the House of Commons, and such speeches as he did make did not compare with his courtroom oratory.
Edward Marshall Hall was born and lived at 30 Old Steine, Brighton where there is a commemorative stone plaque on the wall. The building today houses one of Brighton's oldest established firms of solicitors, Burt Brill and Cardens, and remains largely unchanged externally and internally. Brighton & Hove have named a bus after him.
The County Borough of Southport named Hall Street after him in his honour. In his day, Marshall Hall made and lost many a fortune and was alternately impecunious or well in funds. When he died, he was in funds and left a considerable sum of money in a trust to be administered by Inner Temple for the benefit of young barristers starting out on their careers and who were as impecunious as he had been from time to time. The fund continues to this day.
Marshall Hall's career was dramatised in an 8-episode 1989 BBC Two television serial by Richard Cooper, Shadow of the Noose, starring Jonathan Hyde in the lead role and Terry Taplin as Arthur Newton, the leading solicitor who often secured Marshall Hall's services.
John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, presented some of Marshall Hall's cases in a 5-part 1996 radio series, starring Tom Baker as Marshall Hall. Hall was a famous wit and, in the case of an Irish labourer, when asked by a rather pompous judge, "Is your client not familiar with the maxim res ipsa loquitur?" replied, "My lord, on the remote hillside in County Donegal where my client hails from, they talk of little else."