Title: Papers of Sir William Webb.
Date range: 1946-1948.
Reference number: 3DRL/2481.
Extent: 1.5 shelf metres (8 boxes, 65 albums and 3 folios).
Location: Private Records collection, Research Centre, Australian War Memorial.
Abstract: The papers in the Webb collection document his involvement and contribution to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. They comprise of draft judgements, case notes, correspondence relating to the function of the tribunal, letters from Japanese citizens with translations and reports relating to the function and the jurisdiction of the tribunal. Correspondents include General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers and the Rt Hon Sir John Latham, Chief Justice of Australia.
Provenance: The papers of Sir William Webb were transferred from the Attorney General's Department, to the Australian War Memorial in October 1958. The records were stored in the former chambers of Sir William Webb at the High Court in Sydney.
Restrictions on use: Copyright of materials described in this guide is governed by copyright law in Australia. For further information contact the Curator of Private Records, Research Centre.
Preferred citation: Guide to the papers of Sir William Webb, Australian War Memorial, 3DRL/2481.
- F07480 - War crimes trials at the International Military Tribunal Far East. Film, 4 min 3 sec, of war criminal General Hideki Tojo leading defendants from bus. President of the Court, Honourable Sir William Webb, Australia. Chief of Council Joseph B Keenan, USA, in courtroom. Former puppet Emperor for Manchuria Henry Pu Yi, in witness box.
- S00013 - International Military Tribunal War Crimes Trial, Japan: findings and sentences handed down 12 November 1948 by the President of the International Military Tribunal, Chief Justice William Webb. Sound disc, 2 hr 30 min.
- Records of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (ref. AWM83)
- Records of the Adjutant General dealing with trials of war criminals (ref. AWM166)
- Records of war crimes enquiries and trials, 1939 - 45 war (ref. AWM226)
- Written records, 1939 - 45 war (ref AWM54 item 1010/-)
- Personal correspondence, Sir William Webb, as President of the International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Personal - entertainment. Located at National Archives of Australia.
- Fact Sheet 61, World War II War Crimes, National Archives of Australia,http://www.naa.gov.au/publications/fact_sheets/fs61.html
- National Archives of Australia, Person notes for person CP 333
- Sissons D, Sources of Australian Investigations into Japanese war crimes in the pacific, Journal of the Australian War Memorial, Issue 30, April 1997,http://www.awm.gov.au/journal/j30/sissons.htm
- International law
- War crimes
- War Criminals
William Flood Webb was born in Brisbane, Queensland on 21 January 1887. He attended St Mary's Convent School in Warwick, Queensland where he excelled academically. Webb was ranked second in the Queensland Public Service examination and began working in the Home Secretary's Department on 3 February 1904. He gained a law degree from the University of Queensland and passed the bar examination on 20 May 1913 with an exceptionally high average of 71.5 per cent. Webb was admitted to the Queensland Bar on 4 June 1913.
Webb served as Crown Solicitor and Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department for Queensland from 1917 to 1922. During this time, he married Beatrice Agnew on the 17 March 1917 at the Sacred Heart Church, Sandgate. He was appointed as Queensland Solicitor-General from 1922 to 1925. In 1925 he was appointed as Judge to the Supreme Court of Queensland and President of the Court of Industrial Arbitration. Following this he served as Chairman of the Central Sugar Cane Prices Board from 1926 to 1942, and Chairman of the Australian Industrial Relations Council, 1942 to 1943. From 1940 to 1946 Webb succeeded as the Chief Justice for Queensland. Webb was appointed Chairman to a number of Royal Commissions which included inquiries into the Traveston Railway Disaster in 1925, transport in 1936, sugar industry in 1938, and communication censorship in 1944.
On 23 June 1943, Webb was commissioned under National Security Regulations to report on whether there had been atrocities or breaches of warfare committed by the Japanese military forces. On 15 March 1944, he presented the "Summary of the Report on Japanese Atrocities and breaches of the rules of warfare" to the Australian Government. This was the first of three commissions given to Webb between 1943 and 1945 to investigate war crimes by the Japanese. Webb visited England in 1944 to present his findings to the United Nations War Crimes Commission. In May 1946 Webb was appointed as a Justice of the High Court of Australia where he remained on the bench until his retirement in 1958. His first case was Nelungaloo Pty Ltd v. Commonwealth. For this case, he interrupted his sittings in Tokyo so that it could be heard in the Full High Court in June to July 1947.
Webb's experience in the investigation of war crimes resulted in his subsequent appointment to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East in 1946 as the Australian member and also as the President of the Tribunal. The proceedings took two and a half years with judgement handed down in late 1948. On Friday 12 November 1948, Sir William Webb pronounced sentences on those whom the Tribunal had found guilty. Webb described Tribunal as the most 'important criminal trial in all history'.
Upon Webb's return to Australia, he resumed his position as Justice of the High Court of Australia. Webb sat in more than fifty important constitutional cases, including the succession of transport cases involving section 92 of the Constitution, and the second pharmaceutical benefits case in 1949. Following his retirement from the High Court in 1958, Webb chaired the Committee on Ministerial and Parliamentary Allowances in Tasmania in 1960 and in Queensland in 1962 and 1963. He also chaired the Electric Power Transmission Pty Ltd from 1958 until his death in Brisbane on 11 August in 1972. He was survived by two sons and four daughters.
Webb was created a Knight Bachelor in 1942 and Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1954. In 1967, the University of Queensland awarded him an honorary doctorate of laws, for outstanding contribution to jurisprudence. Webb died in Brisbane on 11 August 1972. His portrait by Archibald Colquhoun hangs in the High Court Building in Canberra.
1. Ritchie J , Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16: 1940-1980, Melbourne University Press, 2002.
2. Black A & C, Who's Who in Australia, 1971, 123rd Edition, Europa, London.
Scope and content note
The papers of Hon. Sir William Webb are held within the Private Records collection at the Australian War Memorial's Research Centre. They document Webb's involvement and contribution to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East during 1947 and 1948. The papers occupy 1.4 shelf metres and comprise a range of record types: draft judgements, legal briefs, records of proceedings, legal exhibits and correspondence. The Tribunal elected the Australian member, Sir William Webb, as president. The Tribunal consisted of nine, then later eleven judges from allied nations. Twenty eight major war criminals were convicted, four more than the number at Nuremberg, Germany. Oral testimony was heard from 419 witnesses but the bulk of the evidence was given in 779 affidavits and 4,336 documents. The proceedings took two and a half years and were recorded in a transcript of 49,858 pages. The judgements were handed down in late 1948, with a summary of the facts and findings of the Tribunal released on the 10 September 1945.