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Glanville Llewelyn Williams QC, LL.D., F.B.A. (15 February 1911 – 10 April 1997) was an influential Welsh legal professor and formerly the Rouse Ball Professor of English Law at the University of Cambridge. Throughout his lifetime he also served as an Honorary and Emeritus Fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge and Honorary Bencher of Middle Temple; as well as lecturing at Cambridge he previously served as the Professor of Public Law and Quain Professor of Jurisprudence at the University College London.

Williams’ Textbook of Criminal Law (London: Steven & Sons, 1983) is on a United States list of the most cited legal books:

The Textbook of Criminal Law, was arguably his best work, as he drew on 50 years of expertise in the area. Professor Williams was well in his 70s when he wrote the 1983 volume. It is a magisterial book written in Socratic style. Professor Williams published article after article in top referee journals, even when he was well in his eighties.

Professor Williams’ influence in the highest courts was sustained and significant. One notable example is in R. v. Shivpuri [1987] A.C. 1, where the defendant imported harmless vegetable material akin to snuff believing he was importing drugs. The House of Lords held: “it was immaterial that the appellant was unsure of the exact nature of the substance in his possession in that in any event he believed that he was dealing with either heroin or cannabis the importation of which was prohibited.” Lord Mackay stated: “I cannot conclude this opinion without disclosing that I have had the advantage, since the conclusion of the argument in this appeal, of reading an article by Professor Glanville Williams entitled “The Lords and Impossible Attempts, or Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?” [1986] Cambridge L.J. 33. The language in which he criticizes the decision in Anderton v. Ryan is not conspicuous for its moderation, but it would be foolish, on that account, not to recognize the force of the criticism and churlish not to acknowledge the assistance I have derived from it. I would answer the certified question in the affirmative and dismiss the appeal.”

He was arguably the greatest legal thinker of twentieth century. His groundbreaking Criminal Law: The General Part (Steven & Sons, London, 1961) is a classic that is still widely read and cited. Similarly, his Textbook of Criminal Law, originally done as a standard textbook for judges, barristers, professors and students, is a twentieth century classic.

In 1997 the New York Times described Williams as Britain’s foremost legal scholar.

Williams was the quintessential Cambridge professor, but also held visiting posts at Columbia University and New York University.John Spencer, summed up his massive contribution in 1997:

"Nowadays Williams is best known as a writer on criminal law, where his fame rests on four books, the influence of which has been enormous. First among these stands his Criminal Law: the General Part (1953), a 900-page text concerned, as he explained in the preface, "to search out the general rules of the criminal law, i.e. those applying to more than one crime". The Proof of Guilt (1955) is a comparative account of the rules by which criminal cases are tried in England and Wales, penetrating in its analysis of the merits of our system as well as its defects.(citation: John Spencer, Sir Bob Hepple, P.R. Glazebrook and ATH Smith, "In Memoriams," 56 Cambridge L.J. 437 (1997)

The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law (1958) examines the philosophical basis for laws against contraception, sterilisation, artificial insemination, abortion, suicide and euthanasia; when it appeared it was very controversial. The fourth book is his 1,000-page Textbook of Criminal Law (1978). This was a successful student textbook, and would be one still if he had ever managed to finish the third edition, on which he had been labouring for 14 years at the time of his death. (citation: John Spencer, Sir Bob Hepple, P.R. Glazebrook and ATH Smith, "In Memoriams," 56 Cambridge L.J. 437 (1997)

In fact, his range as a writer went far beyond the criminal law. Before turning to the criminal law, Williams had already written what are still the definitive books on a range of other important legal subjects: Liability for Animals (1939), The Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Acts (1943) (1945), Crown Proceedings (1948), Joint Obligations (1949), and Joint Torts and Contributory Negligence (1950). In 1947 he had edited Salmond's Jurisprudence.

He covered an even wider range of topics in the huge number of articles which, astonishingly, he also found the time to write. It is difficult, indeed, to think of any important legal subject on which at some time he did not have something original and interesting to say. Nor is this all. For taking notes, he invented and patented a new form of shorthand (Speedhand Shorthand, 1952). And with Learning the Law (1945), now in its 11th edition, he wrote a little introductory book about law studies which was, and still remains, indispensable reading for any would-be law student. (citation: John Spencer, Sir Bob Hepple, P.R. Glazebrook and ATH Smith, "In Memoriams," 56 Cambridge L.J. 437 (1997)

Williams's voluminous and sometimes complicated writings are inspired by two big and simple notions. The first is that the law should be clear, consistent and accessible. The second is that law should be humane. He was a convinced utilitarian, who held that punishment was an evil to be avoided unless there was a good reason for imposing it, and for whom "good reasons" meant the well-being of society, not the tenets of religious belief. Hence Leon Radzinowicz's celebrated bon mot about him: "Glanville Williams is the illegitimate child of Jeremy Bentham". (citation: John Spencer, Sir Bob Hepple, P.R. Glazebrook and A.T.H. Smith, "In Memoriams," 56 Cambridge L.J. 437 (1997)

These utilitarian beliefs also underlay Williams's efforts as a law reformer, an activity in which he managed to play two roles at once. The first was the "establishment man". He devoted many hours over several decades to serving on a range of official committees, in particular the Criminal Law Revision Committee, of which he was a member from 1959 to 1980. In this capacity he shares the credit for a number of reports which led, among other things, to the decriminalisation of suicide in 1961 and the radical reform and codification of the law of theft in 1968.(citation: John Spencer, Sir Bob Hepple, P.R. Glazebrook and ATH Smith, "In Memoriams," 56 Cambridge L.J. 437 (1997)

His second role was that of "radical outsider". Working sometimes with others, sometimes on his own, he was adept at stirring up public opinion over matters where official interest in reform was lacking. He took a major part in the campaign to liberalise the law on abortion, which largely succeeded with the Abortion Act of 1967. He was also very active in the campaign to legalise voluntary euthanasia, which has so far largely failed. He was both president of the Abortion Law Reform Association, and a vice- president of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society.

In the 1950s he was among the first to draw public attention to the problems children face when giving evidence in sex cases - and was still campaigning on the subject in the 1980s. In 1960 he was the first person publicly to advocate the tape-recording of interviews with suspects in police stations; initially condemned as a silly and impractical idea, 25 years later this became almost universal practice. Perhaps his greatest triumph was in 1986, when a well-timed article persuaded the House of Lords to rule that a person can be guilty of attempt even where the crime in question was impossible of completion: so overruling their decision the other way the year before, and expressly overruling, for the first time ever, their previous decision in a criminal case. (citation: John Spencer, Sir Bob Hepple, P.R. Glazebrook and ATH Smith, "In Memoriams," 56 Cambridge L.J. 437 (1997)

Glanville Williams was a respected and innovative teacher. He was also very supportive throughout their careers to a number of his junior colleagues. Although a kind man, however, he was rather shy, and not a great socialiser outside the circle of his family. He was brought up in a pious Congregationalist family in South Wales, and much of his background stayed with him. Notwithstanding his great eminence, he remained to the end of his days a quiet-spoken, modest, gentle, serious-minded Welshman. Although an agnostic for most of his life he knew his Bible, and the use of biblical phrases was instinctive to him. "He smote him hip and thigh", he once said, describing an article an American had written criticising Sigmund Freud.

Academic honours were heaped upon him, culminating in 1995 in a Doctorate of Letters honoris causa from his own university, Cambridge. During his lifetime it was widely rumoured that he had never been offered a knighthood because he had been staunchly pacifist before the Second World War, and during it a conscientious objector. The truth, however, is that he was offered one and declined it; partly from modesty, and partly because he thought it incongruous that a man who had refused to wield a bayonet should theoretically bear a sword. (citation: John Spencer, Sir Bob Hepple, P.R. Glazebrook and ATH Smith, "In Memoriams," 56 Cambridge L.J. 437 (1997)

His influential law book Learning the Law, now in its thirteenth edition, is a critically-acclaimed and popular introductory text for legal undergraduates. Dubbed "Guide, Philosopher and Friend", the book is published by Sweet & Maxwell.

In The Sanctity of Life and the Criminal Law (1957), Williams criticized Christian (especially Roman Catholic) opposition to contraception, artificial insemination, sterilization, abortion, suicide and euthanasia.Glanville Williams read for a PhD in Law at St John's College, Cambridge: his PhD examiner was Professor Sir William Searle Holdsworth, OM, KC, DCL, HON LL.D, FBA, (7 May 1871 — 2 January 1944) was Vinerian Professor of English Law at Oxford University: upon reading the PhD, Professor Holdsworth asked the Cambridge supervisor whether it had been submitted for an LLD, rather than a PhD. It was later published as "Iiability for Animals", (citation: John Spencer, Sir Bob Hepple, P.R. Glazebrook and ATH Smith, "In Memoriams," 56 Cambridge L.J. 437 (1997)

Glanville Llewelyn Williams, lawyer: born Bridgend, Glamorgan 15 February 1911; Called to the Bar, Middle Temple 1935; Research Fellow, St John's College, Cambridge 1936-42; Reader in English Law, then Professor of Public Law and Quain Professor of Jurisprudence, London University 1945-55; Fellow, Jesus College, Cambridge 1955-97; Reader in Law, Cambridge University 1957-65, Professor of English Law 1966-68, Rouse Ball Professor of English Law 1968-78; QC 1968" (citation: John Spencer, Sir Bob Hepple, P.R. Glazebrook and ATH Smith, "In Memoriams," 56 Cambridge L.J. 437 (1997) See also, Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 115, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows, I: Glanville Llewelyn Williams, 1911—1997, by P R Glazebrook.

The Jesus College, University of Cambridge Glanville Williams Society meets each year and is attended by 600 plus leading English lawyers.

In 1976, he was famously impersonated by Campbell McComas, an Australian comedian, at a hoax lecture at Monash University, Melbourne. Many people who knew Williams personally were reportedly fooled by the hoax. 100s and 100s attended, and the lecture ended with the words: "thank you for having me, but you have been had."

Selected Works   more �

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