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Celebrating Professor Sir Elihu Lauterpacht CBE QC LLD, 13 July1928–8 February 2017: When Death Becomes Really Personal

Published on February 14, 2017        Author: 

I had just returned from work on 9 February when I received a text message from my good friend and colleague Jean d’Aspremont. He asked if I had heard the “sad news about Eli Lauterpacht”. Jean did not need to be explicit. I knew that Eli had been ill for some time. I knew that Jean was telling me that Eli had died. I disregarded my plans for dinner and poured myself a serious whisky to start to toast Eli, and to recall my fond memories of him–the man, the mentor, the teacher. Because Eli was a man who deserves to be toasted. A man to be celebrated for so many reasons. A man well worth remembering, professionally and personally, but above all else with affection.

But let us start with the basic professional biography: the only child of Rachel and Hersch Lauterpacht, he was born in London in 1928. Educated at various private schools in the UK and USA, he became a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1945, initially reading history before switching to law, completing the undergraduate law tripos in 1949, and then the postgraduate LLB and his bar exams in 1950, when he was also awarded the Whewell Scholarship. He was called to the bar in Gray’s Inn in 1950, where he became a bencher in 1983. He was awarded a CBE in1989, and knighted in 1998. Despite the demands of his busy practice, he retained a serious foot in academia. He initially taught part-time at both the LSE and Cambridge, but in 1953 he returned to Cambridge to lecture in law. He was appointed as Reader in 1981, established the Research Centre in International Law in 1983, which he directed until 1995, and became a Honorary Professor in 1994. These are brief bones of a busy life lived long and well. The Cambridge Eminent Scholars Archive contains a more detailed biography, transcripts of interviews with Eli, as well as photographs and the video of a lecture, International Law: Reflections and Recollections, which he delivered in 2012 at the Research Centre, which by then had been renamed the Lauterpacht Research Centre in honour of both Eli and his father.

The father and son were very different lawyers: while both were manifestly talented, Eli maintained a much closer focus on practice and advocacy in the application of international law in contrast to his father’s more academic and conceptual concerns. This is not to deny that Eli has left a lasting academic legacy: from a classic early work on munitions de guerre (32 British Yearbook 218 (1955-56)), through perceptive lectures in 1976 at the Hague Academy on international organisations whose title, “The Development of the Law of International Organisations By International Courts”, echoed that of one of his father’s most influential monographs, to analyses of international arbitration later in his career. Read the rest of this entry…

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