Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Unsung heroines (1)

Not many people in Britain know who Gareth Peirce is, but she is one of the most effective human rights lawyers in the country.

Most notably, she got the alleged IRA bombers, the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, freed after being in jail for 14 and 16 years respectively.

Her intervention led to Judith Ward, another supposed IRA bomber, getting her conviction quashed. And she won freedom for Frank Johnson after he served 26 years for murder.

She has defended terrorist suspects in the UK and Guantanamo Bay and represented the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the alleged terrorist shot dead by police in London. In the 1980s she opposed the detention of striking miners.

Now in her sixties, she is a notoriously private person who consistently refuses interviews and publicity and works tirelessly to right miscarriages of justice. She treats those she represents as personal friends and not with the usual professional detachment.

It is said that it was her work as a journalist in the USA during the Civil Rights Movement that created her passion for human rights.

She is absolutely tenacious about her cases and refuses to give up however daunting the legal difficulties. If necessary she works 12 hour days to get at the truth.

Her extreme dedication is astonishing in a profession where lawyers are not always conscientious about their work and may turn up to court knowing little or nothing about their client's case. She finds such behaviour quite unforgivable. If only there were more like her, fewer innocent people would be languishing in jail.

Footnote: In the film about the Guildford Four, 'In the Name of the Father', Gareth Peirce was played by Emma Thompson.

18 comments:

conortje said...

What a lady! Make me wonder what I'm doing with life. Really interesting post Nick!

Manuel said...

She is a true gem in a pool of coal.....

Nick said...

Con and Manny - I wondered whether anyone would care a damn and whether it was even worth the post, but obviously my doubts were baseless as usual!

Wisewebwoman said...

What a heroine she is, Nick and thanks for the post. I had heard of her but very little because of her consistent privacy.
If she ever writes a book it will be a best seller.
it reminds me of the old adage, some wake up and are never the same.
She is an inspiration to us all.
XO
WWW

heartinsanfrancisco said...

A very interesting post about someone worthy of our attention, and a great relief from all the space-fillers about Britney Spears and her ilk.

My father was a criminal defense attorney who was famous in NY in his day. Although he didn't specialize in human rights as such, he had an unshakable conviction that his clients were innocent, and always won his cases.

Nick said...

www - you're right, if she wrote a book it would be a sensation. I bet she'd spill a few squalid secrets about the law. But she's so self-contained I can't see her ever doing it.

Heart - Indeed, she's worth 100 Britneys any day. Or most celebs for that matter. Your father sounds like another lawyer with real integrity, unlike so many of the cynical get-rich-quick brigade.

Baino said...

Nice tribute Nick, I must be honest, I'd never heard of her but I'd be up for her memoirs if ever she writes them. Shame these quiet achievers don't receive more accolates. Out here she'd be given an Australia Day honour I'm sure.

Nick said...

Baino, there's an awful lot of reactionary lawyers, police officers and politicians who can't stand her because she rocks the boat and asks awkward questions. They'd like her to just disappear down a hole. That may be why she doesn't receive many accolades. And of course if she was offered an MBE she'd turn it down as irrelevant claptrap.

conortje said...

banish all doubts Nick :-) Plus I'm hoping the (1) means that this is the start of a series...

Nick said...

Yes, I definitely intend to have a series, but it'll probably be very occasional depending on when I stumble on a suitable subject....

Mudflapgypsy said...

How can you pay attention in NI and not know of Gareth?

I love the fact that she isn't a self publicist, it would be so easy to jump on the celeb gravy train. Her heart is truly in the right place.

Nick said...

MFG, that's true, more people would have heard of her in NI for obvious reasons. Yes, her lack of self-publicising is refreshing when so many people are busy totting up their media appearances and oozing soundbites.

Hullaballoo said...

Nick, I had never heard of her. Thanks for posting about her devotion, ability and achievements. I loved reading about such an inspiring and dignified female lawyer.

Nick said...

Glad to have been of service, Ma'am! But seriously, she is a real inspiration in a world of time-servers and money-grabbers.

Medbh said...

I'll second that it's refreshing to see someone still cherish their privacy these days.
The world needs more fearless women speaking truth to power.

Nick said...

Indeed, Medbh, more fearless women standing up to power are sorely needed. She has amazing self-belief and resistance to people at the top trying to shut her up.

Liz said...

Thanks for sharing her story. I've never heard of her and she's a good example of someone bucking the smarmy trend. I have so many friends who've become lawyers and hate it. Probably if they had something to work for other than corporate profits they'd enjoy it more.

Nick said...

Interesting, Liz, that you have so many friends who are lawyers and hate it. I don't know how most lawyers work, but if the bottom line is how much the client is earning for you rather than pursuing the justice of the case whatever it takes, then it's not surprising they're unhappy.