The Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer

Issue section: 
Issue: 
(340)

Michael Mansfield, Bloomsbury; £20

Michael Mansfield's memoir is a roll-call of the clients for whom he has acted over the past 40 years, from the Angry Brigade to the Bradford 12, the Birmingham Six, the families of Stephen Lawrence and Jean Charles de Menezes.

One of the best chapters in this book is his account of the 1985 trial of 15 miners who were accused of having rioted at Orgreave, during the miners' strike. The defendants faced a possible maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Mansfield had the task of cross-examining Assistant Chief Constable Anthony Clements, the senior officer on the day. Clements told the court that Arthur Scargill had been at the scene orchestrating trouble, that the use of horses had been justified to break up a push by the miners, and that when the police horses had approached the sky had darkened with missiles thrown at them by the miners.

Unknown to the prosecution, the defence had managed to get access to the police's own video footage of the clash. Mansfield showed it. Within minutes Clements was shown to have lied at every point. Soon after, the prosecution decided not to proceed with the charges.

Part of Mansfield's genius has been a refusal to conform to some of the conventions that were accepted across the bar when he began. For example, if a client said their confession had been beaten out of them, the barrister would repeat the claim to the court, nodding and winking to the judge, and showing every sign of disbelieving their own client. The successful appeal of the Birmingham Six case demonstrated that false confessions were routine and that police officers would not hesitate for a second to use force to break a defendant.

The book is full of praise for Mansfield's friend, the great campaigning journalist Paul Foot, who worked with him to expose the miscarriages of justice, and also for the socialist lawyer Jim Nichol whose tenacity and diligence secured the release of the Bridgewater Three.

No socialist would ever choose to fight on a legal terrain but the choice isn't always one of our own making. Through all of Mansfield's stories, the point shines through repeatedly: the best defences are the product of the best defence campaigns. His book serves as a guide to defendants and to activists: don't lose heart; fight back.