Making the legal profession's voice heard

18 August 2014

By Colin Passmore

As a nation, we seem to have lost the ability to protest. When I went to university, the era of the student protest was coming to an end. With the exception of the Countryside march some years ago, and the occasional anti-war demonstration, I sense things have become much worse.

I started thinking about this recently, following a conversation with a London cabbie who, having discovered that I am a solicitor, challenged me over the fact that the legal profession rarely uses the power of its collective voice in order to express concerns, to show up injustice and to try to stop the worst excesses in our society. 

Of course, there are many lawyers who do put their names and reputations on the front line, but for most of us, it is too easy to quietly grumble, to get on with life, accept what comes at us and to leave it to others. Perhaps, life is too good for us.

This changed for me in a small way when some years ago I was involved in a bitterly contested extradition case which involved all sorts of human rights angles (yes, even City solicitors have some working knowledge of human rights). It became useful for us to call on Liberty and to enlist their support in what seemed a very one-sided battle. Through this medium, I got to know Liberty and in particular Shami Chakrabarti (whom I had often seen and admired from afar for her television appearances on Question Time and the like). 

In due course, Shami came to speak to the lawyers in my firm in London about the work of Liberty, its aims, its successes and the issues that it sees as being ones that need to be fought in the interests of society as a whole. That caused me to sign up and I have been a proud member of Liberty for about three years now. 

There are many misconceptions about Liberty. It is not and should not be seen as some sort of “leftie” organisation – I am certainly not a “leftie”!  What it is, is a brave and independent organisation that tackles many issues that perhaps the rest of us feel powerless, and perhaps sometimes indifferent, about challenging. I was reminded of this when Liberty recently sent me an update on the messages it had been sending to Government about the draconian legislation that was rushed onto the statute books in July 2014, the so-called “DRIP” surveillance legislation. What had I done, apart from watching from the sidelines, as Liberty and The Law Society took up the cudgels? You know the answer – but I took a crumb of comfort from the fact that I am and will remain a member of Liberty.

I do not agree with every view that Liberty expresses. And I suspect that will be the case on some new issues as they crop up. But I do support a lot of what Liberty says and the changes that it tries to bring about. And I do think it is an incredible medium through which concerned citizens such as myself, whether or not lawyers, but particularly if lawyers, should channel their views, their voices and above all their (quiet) support. 

I would be pleased to see more members of the legal profession, not just in the City but countrywide, joining up with Liberty and becoming members and supporting its many serious campaigns. It is one way in which the voice of the legal profession can be heard more loudly, more clearly and with better effect. I have no doubt that if any law firm wanted Shami or her many colleagues to come and talk in detail about their work, they would be pleased to do so – you will find it inspirational, depressing and challenging. I dare you to do it. You might even end up joining them.