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What happened to the radical lawyers?

What happened to the radical lawyers?

What is a radical lawyer? What I mean by it are those lawyers whose actions and attitudes were largely motivated by a political ideology – socialism and further left; or at least angry lawyers dedicated to fundamental changes to the law, its institutions and the legal system. They were fearless in putting their often unpopular views across, and it was their badge of honour to be criticised intemperately by others in the legal system. I frequently used to hear vile, unprintable, almost hysterical remarks made about leftie lawyers; I have seen judges in court barely able to speak civilly to the likes of Michael Mansfield, such was their hatred of him and the threat they thought he represented to the good order of the law. It often took a lot of courage for radical lawyers to speak up on behalf of their clients, not least because their own professional bodies were equally suspicious of them, ready to pounce on and punish any minor lapse of professional conduct…

In the sixties and early seventies, all sorts of things were considered beyond the pale by mainstream judges and lawyers: the promotion of racial equality (Geoffrey Bindman, Anthony – now Lord – Lester and, more flamboyantly, the late Rudy Narayan), the provision of law centres (Peter Kandler, who opened the first one, in Notting Hill), resistance to the obscenity laws (Geoffrey Robertson), women’s rights (Helena Kennedy) and representing squatters (Nina Stanger), drug-takers (David Offenbach and the late Bernie Simons), immigrants (Ian Macdonald, Bindman) or militant strikers and trade unions (John Hendy and the solicitors’ firm Seifert Sedley).

15 years old yesterday, this piece by Marcel Berlins in The New Statesman, but a thought-provoking and worthwhile read today. Hat tip @TimGClaw:

Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder and editor of the Free Movement immigration law website.

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