BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: UK  
News Front Page
Middle East
South Asia
N Ireland
Talking Point
Country Profiles
In Depth
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
Monday, 2 July, 2001, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
For the defence: Michael Mansfield
Michael Mansfield
Michael Mansfield: Defending Jill Dando accused
Barry George's lawyer, Michael Mansfield QC, is a colourful character - a best-selling author and a champagne socialist, as well as an expert in civil rights law.

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.

Jill Dando
Jill Dando: Gunned down in 1999
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 59 years, 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's dream

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

Michael Mansfield ariving at the Dando murder trial
Dubbed the "defender of the indefensible"
After passing his finals he hesitated, applied to emigrate to Australia and worked as a dustman. But he eventually heeded 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.

Prosecution in tatters

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.

Ward demo in 92
Demonstration for Judith Ward in 1992
Mr Mansfield 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 part-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."

Stephen Lawrence
Murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence
Politically he is old Labour. Such is his disillusionment with the Blairites, he donated 1,000 to a candidate for Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party before the 1997 general election.

Mr Mansfield represented many miners caught up in the 1984-'85 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 the left-wing filmmaker, 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."

Man of many hats

Marchioness memorial
He acted for the Marchioness families
Mr Mansfield is a busy man. He has set up a human rights centre in Brussels; has organised a project in London to provide US prisoners on death row with British lawyers; and is a frequent legal and moral pundit in the media.

Then there are his books. His first, Presumed Guilty, came out in 1994 and was followed by a novel, The Inquest, in 1997.

He wrote the latter - about a Boeing 747 which explodes over London - after drawing on 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 in 1998 when a parliamentary inquiry was told that top criminal barristers should earn no more than 200,000 a year from legal aid. He regularly charges 200 an 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 during the 1998 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 is unlikely to ever give up his first love, that of the law.

Michael Mansfield
in an interview with the BBC's Hardtalk
Michael Mansfield
"There was an attitude with the Birmingham Six that the state had got it right"
Michael Mansfield
on what influenced his mistrust of the police



Picture gallery

See also:

Links to more UK stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more UK stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |