Michael Mansfield QC believes that he has been a victim of state surveillance since the early 1970s when as a newly qualified barrister he was acting for the likes of the Angry Brigade and the Price Sisters; almost half a century later the veteran radical lawyer finds himself at the Undercover Policing Inquiry not representing families but as a core participant.
‘People didn’t want me to do those cases,’ he tells Calum McCrae in the third episode of the Justice Gap podcast. ‘Fellow lawyers thought I was a traitor. But from that moment on the state was taking an interest in me thinking that I was “one of them”, a terrorist or a sympathiser.’ You can listen to interviews with Dave Smith and Sukdev Reel also core participants in the first two episodes of the series.
Michael Mansfield recalls the phrase used to vilify activists then: ‘reds under the beds’. ‘That’s what they thought I was,’ the silk says; adding that there is nothing new about the home secretary’s recent attacks on ‘lefty’ lawyers and ‘do gooders’.
In October a far-right extremist was discovered at the offices of the largest immigration firm in the country with a knife, handcuffs, and a swastika. Mansfield argues that ministers need to take responsibility for their consequences of their words. ‘It’s disgusting. It happened during the troubles as well,’ he says. ‘Pat Finucane was shot at his home for representing people of a Republican persuasion.’ Earlier this month the government announced they would not be holding an inquiry into the 1989 murder of a solicitor. Pat Finucane was slain by Loyalist killers in front of his wife and children at their Belfast home shortly after a government minister (Douglas Hogg) told MPs that there were solicitors in Northern Ireland who were ‘unduly sympathetic to the cause of the IRA’.
Of course, Michael Mansfield made his name acting for Irish people wrongly accused of IRA atrocities in the 1970s such as the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four. In a wide-ranging interview, the veteran lawyer talks about Grenfell, resisting an ‘elected dictatorship’ and how he is heartened by the next generation of lawyers and activists who are ‘fired up and not afraid’.
‘I don’t wither away and get depressed. People are coming together with tenacity and persistence. It’s possible for people to resist.’
Michael Mansfield QC
Listen to the conversation above, or wherever you get your podcasts.
The next episode of The Justice Gap Podcast will feature a conversation between Jon Robins and Donna Mooney, who is campaigning to change IPP sentences after her brother took his own life as a result of his indefinite sentence.