Ian Macdonald: fierce advocate for justice

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Ian Macdonald in the 1970s when he defended the Mangrove Nine

Lawyers don’t generally enjoy a very good reputation with the public, still less with most socialists. Ian Macdonald QC who has died aged 80 will rightly live long in the memories of many socialists and activists. All his life he was a fighter for justice and freedom.

Ian is probably best remembered now for his huge contribution in immigration law. Indeed he wrote the book on it. The standard textbook bears his name. But Ian cut his teeth doing criminal cases in the late 60s and early 70s.

He truly was a fearless advocate at a time when there were still many judges with fearful reputations whose blatant bias towards the police and loathing of defendants was legendary. The house of one Old Bailey judge was actually called “Truncheons”.

In 1971 Ian acted for the defence in the famous trial of “The Mangrove Nine”. The police had harassed Frank Critchlow, the owner of the Mangrove restaurant in London’s Notting Hill, so regularly that the local community fought back and demonstrated against the abuse of police power.

Nine black members of the community were charged with riot and affray. Ian addressed the jury in powerful terms about the “judicial tyranny” the accused were then subjected to in court. After 55 days the riot charges were thrown out by the jury, five defendants were acquitted of all charges and no doubt to the fury of the police none of those convicted was sent to prison.

In 1981 twelve young Asians (“The Bradford 12”) were arrested and charged with conspiracy to cause explosions and to endanger life, after a crate of homemade milk bottle petrol bombs was discovered.

Only a socialist and activist would have dared to challenge the legal system as Ian did. He came up with the novel idea that a community could claim that it was acting in collective self-defence. In this case there were good reasons for people to fear attacks by racist and fascists from the National Front.

The defence at trial was a proud one of the right of a community to fight back and to their credit the jury accepted the argument and acquitted all 12.

In 1997 Ian was appointed a special advocate before the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC). At that time SIAC dealt with immigration cases that involve issues of national security.

The only way that the rights of the person involved could be partially protected was to appoint special advocates who had access to the security information, denied to the person or their own lawyer, and who could then address the court about it in secret.

But this changed in 2001 when the court started to hear cases involving indefinite detention under Tony Blair’s notorious anti-terrorism legislation. In 2004 the House of Lords ruled that indefinite detention was unlawful.

Ian decided to resign as a special advocate with immediate effect. His resignation statement, which can still be read on the Garden Court Chambers website, makes clear the racist assumptions about Muslims that underlay the legislation. Ian acted as he always did with integrity and was true to his values and beliefs.

Ian was a trailblazer for radical barristers. He was involved in the creation of Garden Court Chambers in London 1974 and in 1996 he set up Garden Court North Chambers in Manchester.

He was living proof that you can be a socialist and as a lawyer you can work to ensure that working class people have the assistance of dedicated lawyers who will fight for their rights against the power of the state.

Mark George QC is based at Garden Court North Chambers, Manchester