A friend in court

Liz Davies reviews Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer by Michael Mansfield QC (Bloomsbury, 2009)

December 21, 2009
3 min read


Liz Davies is chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and a barrister specialising in housing and homelessness law. She writes here in a personal capacity

A glance through Michael Mansfield’s cases – many resulting in the release of innocent people from serving jail sentences for crimes that they did not commit – confirms that he’s earned his reputation. Moreover, Mansfield understands that courtroom victories themselves are never going to change the world, and places himself squarely within political movements for radical change.

After training, Mansfield very quickly became a defence lawyer, specialising initially in drugs possession cases and supplementing his practice with volunteer work at addict centres. It seems to have been this experience that radicalised him. He has drawn on John Stuart Mill to argue that acts which do not encroach on the life or liberty of someone else should not be criminalised. Mansfield is also known for developing bonds with his clients and keeping in touch with them. As a result he knows the human cost of miscarriages of justice.

His career has included some of the most famous trials in the past 30 years. He’s best known for the tenacious legal and political campaigns that exonerated the Birmingham Six, the Bridgewater Three, the Tottenham Three, the Cardiff Three, Judith Ward and Angela Cannings, after having served years for crimes that they had not committed.

In the legal profession, he is best known for his meticulous questioning of forensic evidence and his challenging of assumptions. Mansfield’s successful appeal of the Angela Cannings case – in which she had been convicted of murdering her children after the genetic predisposition of her children to infant mortality was overlooked – set a legal precedent against such cases being swayed by statistical evidence alone.

After the death of Stephen Lawrence, Mansfield and Imran Khan had to develop new legal skills. Suddenly these defence lawyers became prosecutors, trying to convict Lawrence’s murderers when the police had failed to do so. They eventually held the police and the murderers accountable through the Macpherson Inquiry, rather than in the courtroom. Significantly, they forced a retired high court judge, well-known for his illiberal opinions, to understand and uphold the concept of institutional racism.

The book is a riveting read. It’s full of great detail about the process of cross-examination, the fallibility of scientific evidence and the human stories behind the legal details. Mansfield says he’s retiring from legal practice, but let’s wait and see.

Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer is available for purchase here.


Liz Davies is chair of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and a barrister specialising in housing and homelessness law. She writes here in a personal capacity


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

Secrets and spies of Scotland Yard
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

How progressive is the ‘progressive alliance’?
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank

The YPJ: Fighting Isis on the frontline
Rahila Gupta talks to Kimmie Taylor about life on the frontline in Rojava

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform

Who owns our land?
Guy Shrubsole gives some tips for finding out

Don’t delay – ditch coal
Take action this month with the Coal Action Network. By Anne Harris

Utopia: Work less play more
A shorter working week would benefit everyone, writes Madeleine Ellis-Petersen

Mum’s Colombian mine protest comes to London
Anne Harris reports on one woman’s fight against a multinational coal giant

Bike courier Maggie Dewhurst takes on the gig economy… and wins
We spoke to Mags about why she’s ‘biting the hand that feeds her’