Michael Havers, Baron Havers

The Right Honourable
The Lord Havers
Lord Chancellor
In office
13 June 1987  26 October 1987
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by The Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone
Succeeded by The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
Attorney General for England and Wales
Attorney General for Northern Ireland
In office
6 May 1979  13 June 1987
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher
Preceded by Samuel Silkin
Succeeded by Patrick Mayhew
Shadow Attorney General
In office
18 February 1975  4 May 1979
Leader Margaret Thatcher
Succeeded by Samuel Silkin
Solicitor General for England and Wales
In office
5 November 1972  4 March 1974
Prime Minister Edward Heath
Preceded by Geoffrey Howe
Succeeded by Peter Archer
Member of Parliament
for Wimbledon
In office
18 June 1970  11 June 1987
Preceded by Cyril Black
Succeeded by Charles Goodson-Wickes
Personal details
Born (1923-03-10)10 March 1923
Died 1 April 1992(1992-04-01) (aged 69)
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Carol Elizabeth Lay
Children Philip
Alma mater Cambridge University

Robert Michael Oldfield Havers, Baron Havers, PC, QC (10 March 1923 – 1 April 1992) was a British barrister and Conservative politician. From his knighthood in 1972[1] until becoming a peer in 1987 he was known as Sir Michael Havers.

Early life

Havers was the second son of High Court Judge Sir Cecil Havers and Enid Flo Havers (née Snelling) and was the brother of Baroness Butler-Sloss (born 1933) who in 1988 became the first woman named to the Court of Appeal and later President of the Family Division.

He was educated at Westminster School and Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he read Law.


Military service

He served during World War II with the Royal Navy. He served as a 19-year-old Midshipman on HMS Sirius attached to Force Q in the Mediterranean. On 10 September 1943, he was promoted from temporary acting sub-lieutenant to temporary sub-lieutenant.[2] Following the end of the war, he transferred to the permanent Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during April 1947 in the rank of lieutenant seniority from 1 August 1945.[3]

Havers was called to the bar in 1948 and undertook his pupillage in the chambers of Fred Lawton, as the pupil of Gerald Howard. Havers was named a Queen's Counsel in 1964. He was the Recorder of Dover from 1962 to 1968 and Recorder of Norwich from 1968 to 1971.[4]

Political career

He was elected to the House of Commons representing Wimbledon in 1970, a seat he held until 1987. He served as Solicitor General under Edward Heath from 1972 to 1974. He became a member of the Privy Council in 1977. He served as Attorney-General for England and Wales and Northern Ireland from 1979 to 1987 under Margaret Thatcher. During the Falklands War, Havers was included in Thatcher's War Cabinet, to which he provided advice on international law and rules of engagement.[4]

In June 1987 he was appointed Lord Chancellor and consequently became a life peer as Baron Havers, of St Edmundsbury in the County of Suffolk.[5] However, he was forced to resign that October, due to ill health.


Yorkshire Ripper trial

In May 1981, at the beginning of the trial of Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, Sutcliffe pleaded not guilty to 13 counts of murder, but guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. The basis of this defence was his claim that he was the tool of God's will. Sutcliffe first claimed to have heard voices while working as a gravedigger, that ultimately ordered him to kill prostitutes. He claimed that the voices originated from a headstone of a deceased Polish man, Bronislaw Zapolski,[6] and that the voices were that of God.[7][8]

He also pleaded guilty to seven counts of attempted murder. The prosecution intended to accept Sutcliffe's plea after four psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia. However, the trial judge, Mr Justice Boreham, demanded an unusually detailed explanation of the prosecution reasoning. After a two-hour submission by Havers, the Attorney-General, a 90-minute lunch break and a further 40 minutes of legal discussion, he rejected the diminished responsibility plea and the expert testimonies of the four psychiatrists, insisting that the case should be dealt with by a jury. The trial proper was set to commence on 5 May 1981.

Havers drew controversy at the outset of the trial, when he said of Sutcliffe's victims in his introductory speech: "Some were prostitutes, but perhaps the saddest part of the case is that some were not. The last six attacks were on totally respectable women." In response to this remark, the English Collective of Prostitutes accused Havers of "condoning the murder of prostitutes", and women demonstrated outside the Old Bailey with placards in protest.[9]

The trial lasted two weeks and despite the efforts of his counsel James Chadwin QC, Sutcliffe was found guilty of murder on all counts and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Role in the Guildford Four and Maguire Family miscarriages of justice

Havers represented the Crown in two of the most notable miscarriages of justice in British judicial history:[10] the trial and appeal of the Guildford Four and also of the Maguire family (known as the Maguire Seven), all of whom were wrongfully convicted. Collectively, they served a total of 113 years in prison and one of the Maguire Seven, Giuseppe Conlon, died in prison, convicted on the basis of discredited forensic evidence.[11]

In the case of the Guildford Four, the Director of Public Prosecutions was found to have suppressed alibi evidence that supported Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill’s claims of innocence.[12] The Director of Public Prosecutions, for which Havers was acting, was also found to have suppressed confessions by Provisional IRA bombers, known as the Balcombe Street Gang, that they had carried out the Guildford and Woolwich bombings.

In his submission to Sir John May's Inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich bombings in 1989, Labour MP Chris Mullin cast doubt on Havers’s integrity in the matter:[13]

Sir Michael Havers represented the Crown at the trials of the Guildford Four, Mrs. Maguire and her family and at the re-trial/appeal of the Guildford Four. He is, therefore, probably the person who can lay claim to the most detailed knowledge of this affair. I respectfully submit that any inquiry that passed without the benefit of his experience would be deficient....
The only hope of sustaining the original convictions was to rewrite the script from top to bottom. This Sir Michael and his colleagues proceeded to do with ingenuity and relish.

Personal life

Havers married Carol Elizabeth Lay in 1949, with whom he had two sons; Philip Havers, who became a Queen's Counsel like his father, and the actor Nigel Havers.[14] Havers was a member of the Garrick Club.[14]

Havers' house in Woodhayes Road, Wimbledon, was bombed by the Provisional IRA on 13 November 1981; Havers and his family were in Spain at the time of the attack.[14][15] A police constable standing guard outside the house was taken to hospital suffering from shock.[15]


  1. The London Gazette: no. 45839. p. 14189. 30 November 1972.
  2. The London Gazette: no. 36220. p. 4684. 22 October 1943. Retrieved 09 July 2014.
  3. The London Gazette: no. 37948. p. 2023. 6 May 1947. Retrieved 09 July 2014.
  4. 1 2 "Havers, (Robert) Michael Oldfield, Baron Havers (1923–1992)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/51093. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  5. The London Gazette: no. 50975. p. 8059. 24 June 1987.
  6. "The Trial: Week Two." Trial of Peter Sutcliffe.
  7. "MP's Ripper prison demand." BBC World News. 9 March 2003.
  8. "Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe's Weight-Gain Strategy in Latest Bid for Freedom." New Criminologist. 25 May 2005.
  9. Radford, Jill (1992). Femicide : the politics of woman killing. New York Toronto New York: Twayne Maxwell, Macmillan Canada, Maxwell Macmillan International. ISBN 0805790284.
  10. Guardian: After 16 years of waiting, an apology at last for the Guildford Four
  11. New Scientist: Faulty forensic testing convicted Maguire Seven
  12. New York Times Letter: Sins of the Guildford Four Prosecution
  13. Evidence to Sir John May's Inquiry into the Guildford and Woolwich bombings - 1989
  14. 1 2 3 "Obituary: Lord Havers." The Times, London, 3 April 1992, pg 19.
  15. 1 2 Staff Reporters. "Attorney General latest target." Times [London, England] 14 November 1981: 1. The Times Digital Archive. Web. 12 November 2014.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Cyril Black
Member of Parliament for Wimbledon
Succeeded by
Charles Goodson-Wickes
Political offices
Preceded by
Geoffrey Howe
Solicitor General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Peter Archer
Preceded by
Samuel Silkin
Attorney General for England and Wales
Succeeded by
Patrick Mayhew
Attorney General for Northern Ireland
Preceded by
The Lord Hailsham of St Marylebone
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
The Lord Mackay of Clashfern
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