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Stephen Lawrence Wednesday, 24 February, 1999, 18:23 GMT
Profile: Michael Mansfield
Michael Mansfield graphic
If Michael Mansfield QC worked in the United States his profile would probably be on a par with OJ Simpson's flamboyant lawyer, Johnny Cochran.

Stephen Lawrence case: Timeline of events

The fact that British court proceedings are held entirely off camera has reduced his fame but not his earning power.

A dapper figure, who belies his age - he is 57 - his kudos among lawyers is legendary and his success rate in civil liberties cases second to none.

A twice-married father-of-six, Mr Mansfield was brought up in a middle class family in Finchley, north London - Lady Thatcher's old seat.

Dustman

An idealistic teenager in the jazz and beatnik era, he chose to read philosophy but soon realised his life lay in the law.

After passing his finals he hesitated, applied to emigrate to Australia and worked as a dustman, but eventually succumbed to the call of the law.

Called to the Bar at the age of 26, he rapidly established himself as one of the most promising young lawyers of his generation.

His early reputation was as a defender of the indefensible and his big break came in 1972 when he defended one of the alleged leaders of the Angry Brigade, an English anarchist group which bombed several ministers' homes.

Destroyed prosecution case

Mr Mansfield superbly undermined the key scientific evidence and his client, Angela Weir, walked free.

The following year he defended two sisters accused of an IRA bombing at the Old Bailey which had destroyed his own car.

He established his own chambers in 1984 and was made a Queen's Counsel five years later.

Mr Mansfield, who lives in a stylish corner of Tooting in south London, made his name in a succession of high profile cases in which he helped highlight numerous miscarriages of justice.

The Birmingham Six, alleged IRA bomber Judith Ward, Tottenham Three and the Bridgewater Four established his reputation as a fierce anti-establishment cavalier in the mould of the US civil rights lawyer Clarence Darrow.

The legal establishment saw his brilliance and offered him a art-time judge's job, which he turned down.

'Voice of the unrepresented'

He said at the time: "I might have taken the step if I'd felt I'd fulfilled the role that I have tried to play, which is to represent and articulate on behalf of groups that don't find ready representation."

Politically he is old Labour and such is his disillusionment with the Blairite tendency he donated 1,000 to a candidate for Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party before the last general election.

Mr Mansfield represented many miners caught up in the 1984/5 Miners' Strike and also met his second wife, Yvette, during the same dispute. She was at the Orgreave coking works making a film about the strike.

He identifies closely with left-wing film-maker Ken Loach and told the Independent on Sunday in 1997: "Ken is trying to stay true to a principle; his is in celluloid and mine is in words."

Numerous interests

Mr Mansfield is a busy man. He has set up a human rights centre in Brussels, is organising a law project in London which is designed to provide US prisoners of Death Row UK lawyers, and is a frequent legal and moral pundit in the media.

Then there are the books. His first, Presumed Guilty, came out in 1994 and was followed by a novel, The Inquest, in 1997, which he is hoping will be turned into a film.

He wrote the latter - about a Boeing 747 which explodes over London - after tapping into his experiences as an advocate for the Hillsborough and Marchioness families.

Not short of a few bob

But while he is a proponent of the bereaved, the unjustly incarcerated and the poor he is no stranger to wealth.

Mr Mansfield's legal bills came under the spotlight last year when a parliamentary inquiry was told top criminal barristers should earn no more than 200,000 a year from legal aid. He regularly charges 200 per hour and can earn up to 60,000 on one appeal.

Despite the cost he was the obvious choice to represent the family of Stephen Lawrence at last year's inquiry and his pointed questioning had several officers writhing with discomfort.

Mr Mansfield has given up full-time advocacy to pursue his other interests but he will no doubt be at the forefront this week as the Macpherson report lays into his perennial adversaries - the police.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Audio
Michael Mansfield, speaking on the BBC's HARDtalk programme, says he never set out to "indict the legal establishment"
Audio
Michael Mansfield: "There was an attitude with the Birmingham Six that the state had got it right"
Audio
Michael Mansfield explains what influenced his mistrust of the police
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