OBITUARY:Jacques Isorni

There have always been lawyers in France whose fame has depended not only on their eloquence, but also on their pugnacity in defending an un- popular case and on their total commitment to their client. Alongside Fernand Labori, who defended Dreyfus, and Jacques Vergs, who defended the Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie, one must rank Jacques Isorni.

Isorni fought for Marshal Ptain in his trial in 1945, demanded his release from prison and for the rest of his life championed his memory. He pleaded in favour of de Gaulle's would-be assassin Colonel Bastien- Thiry, who was executed in 1963. He won the acquittal of a Polish workman in 1968, when public opinion was convinced that he was guilty of murdering a young girl.

Nothing suggested that Isorni would have a career so beset with drama, controversy and bitterness. Born in Paris in 1911, he was called to the Bar in 1931 and became Secretary of the Advocates Association of France. He was not particularly active politically, although he was a disciple of Barrs and an admirer of Maurras, collaborating with the nationalist paper L'Echo de Paris (along with a young student called Franois Mitterrand).

He was called up in 1939, with the rank of sergeant, and after the armistice he returned to his legal practice. There he defended many, including some who had been arrested by the Vichy authorities, Resistance workers and communists among them. But it was not until the trial of Robert Brasillach that he became famous. Isorni, along with many writers and intellectuals, organised a petition begging that this brilliant novelist and journalist, who had demanded alliance, not collaboration, with Germany, should be pardoned. Isorni put his case personally to General de Gaulle, but for reasons that remain obscure, the General refused to intervene and Brasillach was shot on 6 February 1945.

It was as a result of the sensation caused by this case that Isorni was invited to be one of the advocates defending Ptain in July and August 1945. Ptain was charged with committing crimes against the internal security of the state, and of having dealings with the enemy with a view to promoting their enterprises in conjunction with his own. Very soon Isorni was regarded as the most important of Ptain's advocates; Ptain referred to him as "my Messiah".

Whereas others chose to emphasise Ptain's servility as a way of excusing his conduct, Isorni chose to defend his policies, supporting the armistice and claiming that France had derived many material benefits from the Vichy regime. Isorni's concluding speech, delivered in what was said to be the most crowded court room that France had ever seen, reduced many of those listening to tears as he insisted that they must envisage the scene of the aged Marshal being guillotined. After de Gaulle had commuted the death sentence, Isorni pleaded unsuccessfully that Ptain should not remain a prisoner on the distant Ile d'Yeu, off the Brittany coast, for the rest of his life.

Isorni also defended a certain Yves Dautun, the godson of Franois Mitterrand's mother, who was given two sentences of 20 years for the work that he had done destroying British and American intelligence networks. When Mitterrand became a minister, Isorni asked him to intervene and get the sentences reduced. This Mitterrand did.

Isorni's reputation was made. He was a Ptainist and the friend of collaborators. But he was elected to Parliament, for the second section of the Seine department, in 1951 and in 1956. Unsurprisingly, he could not accept de Gaulle's return to power in 1958. As he put it, "the defender of Louis XVI cannot vote for Robespierre". He did not believe that the Fifth Republic was legal. He was opposed to abandoning French Algeria. His defence of Col Bastien-Thiry was, as he saw it, the opportunity to put de Gaulle on trial. Ptain the patriot would thus be shown alongside de Gaulle the opportunist. Unfortunately his attitude became so violent that he was disbarred for three years, and a pamphlet of his had to be withdrawn.

He much preferred Mitterrand to any Gaullist. In 1965 he urged his supporters to vote for Mitterrand in the second ballot of the Presidential election. "Mitterrand," he argued, "has never said a word against Ptain." In this respect, at least, the defender of Ptain was right.

Jacques Alfred Antoine Tibre Isorni, lawyer: born Paris 3 July 1911; died Paris 8 May 1995.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

HR Manager - Kent - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager / Training Manager (L&D /...

HR Manager - Edgware, London - £45,000

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - Edgware, Lon...

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week