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“When I was reading ‘The Three Musketeers’, I was outraged by Milady’s death”

Henri Leclerc is one of the greatest lawyers of his time. A tireless activist, from the Unified Socialist Party (PSU) of Michel Rocard to the presidency of the League of Human Rights, he finally hung up his robe after sixty-five years of trial, many of which marked the century.

I wouldn’t have come here if…

If my father hadn’t come home furious, one evening in October 1945, because Pierre Laval hadn’t had the right to a real trial. I was 11 years old, I can still see him saying to my mother: “But it’s scandalous, they didn’t even judge him, they killed him this morning!” I had heard of Laval during the war, my father railed against Vichy and the collaboration. But there, he was in a black rage, he repeated: “His lawyer could not defend, he committed suicide, they washed his stomach. The Attorney General even issued a press release to say “Mr. Laval’s life is no longer in danger”, and they dragged him to the execution post.

It was the Liberation, there was the purge and summary executions, but my parents were against the death penalty, even then. I was very impressed by this story. I might not have become so hostile to the death penalty if my parents hadn’t been. Three years later, my father gave me the book by Albert Naud, the court-appointed lawyer from Laval. He told the story of this scandalous trial and explained what the criminal procedure was. It was my first contact with the law.

Is that when you decided to become a lawyer?

No, I didn’t think about it until quite late, but it had been in my head, unconsciously for a very long time. when i was reading The three Musketeers, I was outraged by Milady’s death. It must be said that Dumas pulls out all the stops, it’s a scene of incredible anguish and violence. Milady is indeed the wicked one, but the torture, the violence, the bad justice, all that made me indignant. Victor Hugo’s novel The Last Day of a Convict also really shook me up.

What childhood did you have?

I had a sweet, quiet childhood, even though it was wartime. In 1939, I was 5 years old. We were in my grandparents’ village, near Limoges, and we had to go to the sea, it was the first time for me. I was in front of the large Grandfather clock in the kitchen when we learned of the declaration of war, and suddenly everyone started crying.

My father was a veteran of the 1914 war, he was a registration inspector – a tax branch – and was requisitioned in Paris. My mother was a housewife, but she had studied law. My father was a left-wing man, very secular, he was not directly involved in the Resistance, but he was very anti-Vichy, we listened to Radio London every night before going to bed, I knew it was forbidden, but it was exciting. Of course, we ate badly, but I can’t say that I suffered from hunger.

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