Criminology and War: Leon Radzinowicz in the London Moment

Among British criminologists, Leon Radzinowicz is considered one of the founding fathers of the discipline. In 1959, he became the first Wolfson Professor of Criminology and founding Director of the newly established Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge. He continued to dominate the academic field until his retirement in 1973. For some time, he was thus an unrivalled gatekeeper for criminology as an academic discipline. What is lesser known is how he came to England in the first place, and what his wartime work tells us about the “London Moment”.

Leon Radzinowicz, 1971 (c) Lotte Meitner-Graf

Radzinowicz was born as Leon Rabinowicz in 1906 in Łódź – at the time in Congress Poland – to a family of Russian-Jewish descent.[1] However, his academic education was decidedly European. He studied in Paris with reformist Henri Donnedieu de Vabres (known for his role as vice-president of the Association international de droit penal and as judge at the Nuremberg Trials) as well as in Geneva with Paul Logoz, who framed the new Swiss Penal Code.[2]  Radzinowicz then did a PhD with Enrico Ferri in Rome, who was central to the movement for the unification of criminal law. It doesn’t surprise, then, that besides Russian and Polish, Radzinowicz was fluent in English, French, Italian and German, the most important languages in the emerging academic discipline of criminology.[3] After his PhD, he became a Privatdozent in Geneva and conducted penal studies in Belgium. In 1929, he returned to Poland and, upon receiving a doctorate from the Jagiellonian University of Crocow, became a Dozent of criminal policy at the Free Polish University in Warsaw in 1932, where he became “the top name in the Polish criminal and prison sciences.”[4] He employed a reformist approach and became critical of the tenets of the Positivist School of criminology whilst wrestling with a rekindled anti-Semitism and authoritarian prison reforms in Poland after 1935.

In 1938, the Polish Ministry of Justice dispatched Radzinowicz to the United Kingdom to conduct a study on English criminal law and its administration.[5] As he witnessed first-hand the perversion of the assumptions of the Positivist School under fascist regimes, he was fascinated by the liberal approach in England to criminal policy.[6] When the war broke out on the continent in September 1939, he decided to stay there with his wife Irena Szereszewska: although he had converted to Christianity, he was considered a Jew in the eyes of the German racial laws, and thus likely to be deported and killed.[7]

For academics and non-academics alike, emigration was a decision not easily made. It meant a life uprooted, a career disrupted, financial security foregone for the foreseeable future. Many legal refugee scholars never managed to resume their career, as they were specialized in the legal system of their home country. In exile, one strategy to take a foothold in the new academic community was to take on a research subject that was only of marginal interest to the “native” scholars. For example, émigré lawyers from Continental Europe showed a strong tendency towards international and comparative law, as well as criminology.[8] German criminal law professors Max Grünhut and Hermann Mannheim conducted research into the causes of crime and its prevention and thereby managed to receive funding by the All Souls College in Oxford and the London School of Economics respectively, without alienating their British peers who were less interested in these issues.[9] Criminology – or “criminal science” – as a discipline was still in its infancy then, without institutes, professorships, professional organisations. This made it easier for outsiders like refugee scholars to exert influence.

As opposed to academic refugees like Max Grünhut and Hermann Mannheim – who also came to shape the early years of British criminology – Radzinowicz had several advantages: He was relatively young and ready to start a career in a new academic system. While Grünhut and Mannheim had mainly published on German criminal law and seemed to be of little value to the English faculties of law when they needed to emigrate, Radzinowicz was more flexible and had been intrigued by the liberal approach to criminal law in Great Britain long before.[10] Also, he came from an affluent family and was financially independent, which helped him to settle in Great Britain without a formal position and pay.[11] He then started to build a relationship with the British penal reform movement, in particular the Howard League for Penal Reform (HLPR) – an international NGO lobbying for reforms of the administration of criminal justice as well as an international convention for the rights of the accused.[12] Radzinowicz met with several members of the HLPR and eventually represented it at an international meeting on the rights of the accused in Geneva in June 1939. The HLPR’s secretary Cicely Craven also introduced him to J.W. Cecil Turner, a criminal law don at Trinity Hall of Cambridge University – a fateful encounter.[13] Together, they established a “Committee to consider the promotion of research and teaching in criminal science” at the Faculty of Law in 1940 – the first of its kind. At the time, explanations of punishment and crime were mostly put forward by practitioners – penal and social reformers, prison governors, the judiciary – rather than by academics. In fact, when Turner was interviewed about their efforts, he made sure to point out that they were not “musty dons” but “practical men of law.”[14] This way, he wanted to prove that their work was of immediate relevance to the judiciary and the administration of criminal justice in Great Britain, not a pastime of well-paid and somewhat detached scholars.

To convince the university to support such a committee, Turner and Radzinowicz stressed the importance of their endeavour for post-war reconstruction. At the time, the war was well underway, and London suffered from air raids by the German army. As more and more British and transnational expert groups put forward plans for the post-war international order, Turner and Radzinowicz wanted to make sure that penal reform was one of the pillars of the reconstruction efforts. Thus, their newly founded publication series, English Studies of Criminal Science, offered a platform for studies of the British and foreign methods to prevent and treat crime, in the hope that comparative knowledge would enable improvements in the administration of criminal justice after the war and help maintain peace. Their reasoning was that the collection of empirical data helped identifying best practices in criminal policy and, based on these experiences, developing common international standards.

In late 1941, Cambridge University decided to turn the Committee into a Department of Criminal Science, which was a first tentative step towards institutionalising criminology as a discipline in its own right (as opposed to being a side project of scholars of criminal law). Even the name raised eyebrows. Thus, Lord-Chancellor Simon teased the Department’s chairman Percy H. Winfield, professor for English Law at Cambridge:

„[W]hat a curious use of words it is to talk of a Department of Criminal Science! Such a Department one would have thought ought to give lectures on how to break open safes, and your blameless antecedents would not qualify you to be Chairman. No doubt criminal law and penology are what is meant.“[15]

At the same time, Radzinowicz and Turner increased their efforts for developing a vision for the post-war international legal order and established the International Commission for Penal Reconstruction and Development. This so-called “Cambridge Commission” brought together experts from European countries to study the rights of the accused, recidivism, and violations of the international public order. With the émigré lawyers keen to debate the punishment of war crimes, Radzinowicz suddenly found himself at the centre of a vibrant debate about international criminal justice and international humanitarian law. For Radzinowicz himself, the goal was the “establishment of social security and of international order” after the war.[16] It is consistent with these observations that he went on to work for the Social Defence Section of the United Nations after the war, where he continued to push for more international cooperation in penal matters.

Leon Radzinowicz, UN Crime Prevention Congress, 1960 (c) United Nations

When looking at Radzinowicz’s first years in England, we are reminded how anachronistic it is to tell the history of criminology as “tale of icons and demons”.[17] The discipline did not simply progress from one “founder” of a new dogma to another, as David Garland points out: from Cesare Beccaria and the Classical School of criminology in the 18th century, via Cesare Lombroso and his 19th century Italian School of Positivist Criminology, through to Radzinowicz as representative of a 20th century, modern scientific criminology. The history of criminology as intellectual exercise, university discipline and governmental tool is more complex than teleological success stories imply. Even one of the professed “founding fathers” of criminology commenced his career amid the existential threat of war, inhibited to return to the continent even if he had wanted to. In the London Moment, he gained a foothold in the British university system – and at Cambridge at that – because he found an ally, and later a friend, in the reticent but resolute Cecil Turner. When the war ended, Radzinowicz was barely forty years old – thus younger than most other legal emigres, had already gained experience and a network in the British university system since his immigration, and had a life-long career in front of him.


[1] Jan Widacki, ‘The Polish Years of Leon Radzinowicz: A Contribution to Biography’, Archiwum Kryminologii XLI, no. 2 (2019): 365–79; Roger Hood, ‘Leon Radzinowicz, 1906–1999’, Proceedings of the British Academy 111 (2001): 637–655; Anthony Bottoms, ‘Sir Leon Radzinowicz: An Appreciation’, in Ideology, Crime and Criminal Justice: A Symposium in Honor of Sir Leon Radzinowicz, eds. id. and Michael Tonry (Cullompton: Willan, 2002), xiii–xvii.

[2] On Donnedieu de Vabres see the recent Frédéric Mégret, ‘Henri Donnedieu de Vabres: Penal Liberal, Moderate Internationalist and Nuremberg Judge’, in The Dawn of a Discipline: International Criminal Justice and Its Early Exponents, eds. id. and Immi Tallgren (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 146–73.

[3] Terence Morris, ‘Sir Leon Radzinowicz’, The Guardian, 1 January 2000, https://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/jan/01/guardianobituaries; Hood, ‘Radzinowicz’ 2001, 638.

[4] Roger Hood and Radzinowicz himself mistakenly date his return to Poland to 1931, cf. Widacki, ‘Radzinowicz’ 2019, 368. Quote ibid., 376.

[5] Widacki, ‘Radzinowicz’ 2019, 376. Again, Roger Hood gives a different date, 1936, but without proof: Hood, ‘Radzinowicz’ 2001, 641.

[6] Hood, ‘Radzinowicz’ 2001, 642f.

[7] Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik, eds., ‘Radzinowicz, Sir Leon’, in Encyclopaedia Judaica (Detroit, MI: Macmillan, 2007), link.gale.com/apps/doc/CX2587516340/GVRL?u=sbbpk&sid=GVRL&xid=cd9c5deb.

[8] Jack Beatson, ‘Aliens, Enemy Aliens, and Friendly Enemy Aliens: Britain as a Home for Émigré and Refugee Lawyers’, in Jurists Uprooted: German-Speaking Emigré Lawyers in Twentieth Century Britain, ed. Jack Beatson and Reinhard Zimmermann (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), 103.

[9] Roger Hood, ‘Hermann Mannheim and Max Grünhut: Criminological Pioneers in London and Oxford’, The British Journal of Criminology 44, no. 4 (2004): 469–95.

[10] Leon Radzinowicz, Adventures in Criminology (London, New York: Routledge, 1998), ch. 6.

[11] Anthony Bottoms, ‘Sir Leon Radzinowicz: An Appreciation’, in Ideology, Crime and Criminal Justice: A Symposium in Honor of Sir Leon Radzinowicz, ed. Anthony Bottoms and Michael Tonry (Cullompton: Willan, 2002), xiii; Hood, ‘Radzinowicz’ 2001, 643.

[12] Adnan Sattar, Criminal Punishment and Human Rights: Convenient Morality (London: Routledge, 2019), ch. 5.

[13] Radzinowicz, Adventures 1998,133.

[14] Montagu Slater, Dons Take a Hand in Crime, in: xxx, 7 December 1941.

[15] Oxford, Bodleian Libraries, Archive of John Allsebrook Simon, 1st Viscount Simon, Box 90, Lord Simon to Percy H. Winfield, 31 December 1941.

[16] Leon Radzinowicz and J.W. Cecil Turner, ‘Penal Reconstruction and Development: Proceedings of the Conference Held in Cambridge on the 14th November, 1941, Between Representatives of Nine Allied Countries and of the Department of Criminal Science in the University of Cambridge’, Canadian Bar Review 20, no. 3 (March 1942): 213.

[17] David Garland, ‘Of Crimes and Criminals: The Development of Criminology in Britain’, in The Oxford Handbook of Criminology, ed. Mike Maguire, Rod Morgan, and Robert Reiner, 2nd revised edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 14.


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