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Oral history: law and the legal system

Oral history collections at the British Library encompass interviews with a wide range of those involved in the legal and criminal justice system including the police, lawyers, barristers and judges.

Legal profession

  • Legal Lives (catalogue no: C736) a National Life Stories project comprises of interviews with lawyers, solicitors, barristers and other members of the legal profession in Britain. Interviewees include Lord Bridge and Peter Goldsmith (former Attorney General of England and Wales), Lady Hale (the first female Law Lord) and barrister Sir Sydney Kentridge QC.
  • An interview with Joel Joffe, Labour peer in the House of Lords and defence lawyer for Nelson Mandela at the Rivonia Trial of 1963-64, is included in the National Life Stories collection Pioneers in Charity and Social Welfare (C1155), We also hold recordings from the Rivonia Trial (catalogue no: C985) which comprise the opening of the defence case by Defence Counsel Bram Fischer, followed by interjections from Justice Quartus de Wet and Prosecutor Percy Yutar, then a three-hour speech by Accused Number One (Nelson Mandela).
  • The Fawcett Collection (C468), a National Life Stories collection of recordings funded by the Fawcett Society and the Friends of the Fawcett Library, focuses on the lives of pioneering career women, each of whom made their mark in traditionally male-dominated areas such as politics, the law and medicine. Interviews relating to the law include a recording with Jean Graham Hall, arbitrator and lawyer.
  • The NSA: General (catalogue no: C465) collection includes recordings with prominent individuals who do not easily fit within a particular project. Interviewees relating to law include Lord Hartley Shawcross, the chief British prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.

Police

  • The Barbara Weinberger police interviews (catalogue no: C684) were conducted for a project entitled `The golden years of policing, 1930s-1960s' which subsequently became a book The Best Police in the World: An Oral History of English Policing from the 1930s to the 1960s (Scholar Press, 1995).
  • The Millennium Memory Bank (C900) - In the last year of the 20th century all BBC local radio stations across England, together with Radio Scotland, Radio Ulster, Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, joined forces with the British Library Sound Archive to create a powerful record of the century just ending through the voices of thousands of people from all walks of life. This joint BBC and British Library project, entitled 'The Century Speaks: Millennium Oral History Project' collected over 6000 interviews. 6,000 people of all ages and backgrounds told us how they and their communities have changed during this period and in so doing they helped us to create a sound map of the century. Memories have been gathered under sixteen headings, one of which was Crime and the Law.

Related recordings

Accessing the collections

To access oral history material:

  • Search for oral history recordings held at the British Library using the online Sound and Moving Image Catalogue (see useful advice on searching the oral history collections).
  • Onsite access to oral history recordings: The Listening and Viewing Service in St Pancras provides free public access to the oral history collections on an appointment basis. Many digital recordings are also available via SoundServer, a computerised listening facility located in the Humanities Reading Rooms.  SoundServer is also available at the British Library’s site in Boston Spa in Yorkshire.
  • Internet access to selected oral history recordings: The British Library Sounds website gives remote access to a selection of interviews from the Library’s oral history collections. Some recordings are currently only licensed to Higher and Further Education users in the UK, others are available for full public access.

Further information

Contact us

Oral History
The British Library
96 Euston Road
London
NW1 2DB
United Kingdom

T +44 (0)20 7412 7405 (Rob Perks, Lead Curator, Oral History  / Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7406 (Mary Stewart, Curator, Oral History / Deputy Director of National Life Stories)
T +44 (0)20 7412 7404 (Elspeth Millar, Archivist, Oral History)
E oralhistory@bl.uk