Loss of our Vice President, Michael Seifert

The solicitor Michael Seifert, who has died aged 74, and his firm Seifert Sedley, worked to help Britain’s miners and their leaders through what Arthur Scargill, former president of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), described as “our most difficult period in the past century”.

“The working class have lost a true warrior and I have lost a true friend,” was Scargill’s response to Michael’s death. From the outset of the miners’ strike in 1984, Michael committed himself and his firm to their cause. First to need help were the miners on strike in Nottinghamshire. The local NUM branch opposed the strike and withheld resources. Seifert Sedley lawyers were dispatched to Ollerton Miners’ welfare centre to provide regular free legal advice sessions and to Nottinghamshire magistrates courts to represent the increasing numbers of striking miners who were being arrested. The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers was galvanised to develop this support.

Margaret Thatcher used “every means” against the miners, said Scargill. These included the flooding of the NUM with writs from well-funded opponents: writs claiming that picketing amounted to unlawful harassment; writs claiming the national strike was not official; and writs seeking sequestration of the union funds and putting it into receivership. Michael went to the limit to protect the NUM. But Thatcher got what she wanted.

Nevertheless, the miners managed to strike for nearly a year, during which time Seifert Sedley provided thousands of pounds’ worth of legal assistance, without expecting payment. The following year, Michael represented striking printers during the Wapping dispute with similar vigour. A committed communist, Michael was a significant figure of the left throughout the last half century. It was his involvement with progressive causes as much as his incisive legal mind that made the advice he gave wise, unstinting and trusted.

Money was not an issue, if clients did not have it. Michael did not advertise nor appear in the media. He did not seek and was not given any legal establishment awards. However he was given honours that delighted him: he was made an honorary member of the NUM in 1985; invited by the ANC to attend the inauguration of Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994; and made vice-president of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers in 2006.

Michael advised trade unions and their general secretaries including Rodney Bickerstaffe, Ken Gill, Ken Cameron and Alan Sapper, and the GLC leader Ken Livingstone. He was proud to do so: but for Michael the struggles of individual workers or activists required the same support. Michael was often no mere legal adviser but his client’s friend. In 1972, he represented Anna Mendelssohn of the Angry Brigade, who was charged with causing explosions in protest against the Industrial Relations bill. He arranged for her to live with him at his parents’ house in order to secure her bail.

Michael gave ANC leaders strategic legal advice during their years in exile. He also sued the South African government for conspiracy to kidnap the ANC representative in London. Michael advised the Anti-Apartheid Movement as well, at times securing its very survival. For decades, he shouldered for the Morning Star newspaper the stress of the legal challenges it faced, and the Marx Memorial Library also relied on his advice.

The Cuba Solidarity Campaign depended on his politically sophisticated assessments of what legal issues to avoid and what to pursue – and relied on his skill and vast network to persuade specialist lawyers to take up cases at reduced rates. From 2003 Michael also chaired the Music Fund for Cuba, which provides instruments to young Cuban musicians.

Michael’s expertise was widely sought-after. The Socialist Workers party and its predecessor referred cases to Seifert Sedley because they trusted Michael. He was on the board of Friends of the Earth (1990-2006), legal adviser to Greenpeace (from 1990) and a director of North Kensington law centre (2001-14). He had loyal commercial clients.

Born in London, Michael was the son of Connie (nee Shine), a teacher, and Sigmund Seifert, a lawyer, who were both communists. As the eldest child, Michael sought to lead his three siblings, generally into trouble. The family home was vibrant and full of visiting political personalities, such as Paul Robeson and Angela Davis.

From Highgate school, in 1960 Michael gained an open exhibition in history to St John’s College, Oxford. He trained to be a solicitor with Lord (Arnold) Goodman. Michael then joined the family firm, Seifert Sedley, founded by his uncle Bill Sedley. When it closed in 1991 he worked as a sole practitioner at the offices of Simons Muirhead & Burton.

Michael was warm, gregarious, funny and very opinionated. Seifert Sedley’s office was lively and full – sometimes with the children of staff or clients. This did not always go well: the daughter of one client was startled when Michael asked her whether she enjoyed having her milk snatched by Thatcher. His legacy includes a cadre of lawyers trained by him to be astute to the politics of law, and to respect their clients and their causes. These lawyers, just like his clients, frequently went back to him for advice – which he often gave over lunches he insisted on paying for.

He was passionate about football, cricket, art, opera, history and poetry, and had an extraordinarily wide social circle. He walked – often in plimsolls, and smoking – with the Red Ramblers group. He attended Haldane and Marx Memorial meetings into his 70s, debating energetically and encouraging young people to do so.

For many years Michael lived in a modest flat in Notting Hill, west London, where he held annual carnival parties. Then, from 1993, he lived with his partner, Caroline Conran, relishing family life with her. He was a generous host – to eat, drink and talk was his joy.

He is survived by Caroline, and by his sister, Susan, and brother, Roger.

• Michael Seifert, solicitor, born 30 July 1942; died 19 July 2017

This article was originally published in the Guardian.

Tony Blair to escape prosecution for the invasion of Iraq. What now for accountability?

Michael Mansfield QC and Antonia Benfield write:

The High Court has brought to an end the hope of prosecuting Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Peter Goldsmith for the crime of aggression in invading Iraq in 2003.  The invasion and subsequent occupation resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the displacement of over 4 million others, and has left the country and region in a state of chronic instability.  Yet the High Court has confirmed that there is to be no accountability.  Those responsible are to remain unpunished.

The circumstances of the invasion have been extensively scrutinized in the report of Sir John Chilcot, published on the 6th July 2016.  The Report concluded that Saddam Hussein did not pose an urgent threat to the interests of the United Kingdom, that intelligence regarding weapons of mass destruction was presented with unwarranted certainty, that peaceful alternatives to war had not been exhausted and that war in Iraq was not necessary.  On the Report’s findings, the conclusion that the UK and allied forces waged an aggressive war in Iraq is indisputable.

The High Court concluded however, that domestic prosecution is impossible. As established in the earlier House of Lords decision in Jones, the High Court confirmed the crime of aggression is not a crime in domestic law, and as such, no prosecution can be brought in domestic courts.  The High Court however did see force in the submission thatwhere the crime of aggression exists in international law but there is no means of prosecution, that the rule of law is undermined.

On behalf of the Claimant, a General of the Iraqi Army, it was argued that the crime of aggression should be considered as part of the domestic common law, having been incorporated at least since 1945 when the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg commenced the prosecution of Nazi war criminals in the wake of World War II.  


At the opening of the Nuremberg Trials, the British Attorney General, Sir Hartley Shawcross QC, led the British prosecution and condemned the waging of aggressive war in the strongest terms, as the supreme international crime.  Shawcross said that to allow individuals to escape punishment for such crimes made an absurdity of the law.  Yet since Nuremberg there has been a shameful slide from the moral and legal high ground the UK then occupied.

It is widely accepted that the crime of aggression is a crime in international law.  The International Criminal Court has however been unable to exercise jurisdiction over the crime, and international law is at present unable to bring the guilty to account.  Despite giving verbal commitment to the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction over the crime of aggression, the British Government has failed to ratify the statutory amendments to make it a possibility, significantly undermining its pretence of support. 

The British Government have, in addition, afforded themselves de facto domestic immunity by failing to enact legislation, that would make the crime of aggression a domestic criminal offence.  Many countries including Germany, Kosovo, Iraq and Serbia have enacted domestic legislation, while the British Government has manifestly failed to ensure that those guilty of bringing devastation to nations through aggressive war can be brought to trial.

On the national and international stage the failure of the British Government to give tangible commitment to the prosecution of the crime of aggression undermines the rule of law.  It sets dangerous precedent in times of global insecurity and sets an example to the rest of the world that states can wage aggressive war with impunity.  The devastation that has been caused to millions of Iraqi civilians leaves the world with only one lesson - how to commit the most serious of crimes, and get away with it.

Jobstown Not Guilty: Stand Up for the Right to Protest

In Ireland, on 24 April 2017, 18 protesters against water charges are due to stand trial for 'false imprisonment.' This is a political attack on the left in Ireland and the right to protest.

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers have organised this picket in solidarity with those who are standing trial. Join us at the Irish Embassy on the first day of trial, 24 April 2017, to stand up against the oppression being meted out by the Irish state.

The Jobstown Not Guilty campaign have produced a pamphlet about the trial.  Download the pamphlet or read it below.

LGFS Consultation Response

The Ministry of Justice is consulting on proposed changes to the Litigators Graduated Fee Scheme, which solicitors conducting legally aided criminal work.  The proposals amount to massive and unsustainable cuts and are firmly opposed by the Haldane Society.

The Haldane Society has provided a detailed response to the consultation. 

Download our response here, or read it below.

Free public lecture: Where next for the ICC?

On 26 April 2017 at 18:30 to 20:30 we will hold our next lecture in our Human Rights Lecture Series.

"Where next for the ICC?" will feature speakers:

  • Wayne Jordash QC (Doughty Street Chambers) and
  • Carla Ferstman (Redress)

The event will take place at the University of Law, 14 Store Street, London, WC1E 7DE.

No need to register; latecomers welcome.

Follow the event on Facebook.


Fighting trolls: Tackling online violence against women

Our next lecture, FIGHTING TROLLS: TACKLING ONLINE VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN on 21 March 2017, will be addressed by speakers Dianne Abbott MP, and Olivia Piercy (Rights of Women).

The lecture takes place 6.30pm at BPP University, Waterloo Campus (137 Stamford Street, Lambeth, London, SE1 9NN).  Directions right.




Solidarity with the International Women’s Strike – 8th March 2017

This International Women’s Day, millions of women around the world are taking to the streets, reclaiming public spaces and collectively withdrawing our waged and unwaged labour in an international strike against gendered violence.

A joint statement by a group of prominent socialist feminist academics and activists – including Angela Davis, who was keynote speaker at Haldane’s ‘Women Fighting Back’ conference in 2015 – describes the invisibilized structural violence against women this global strike aims to denounce:

“In embracing a feminism for the 99%, we take inspiration from the Argentinian coalition Ni Una Menos. Violence against women, as they define it, has many facets: it is domestic violence, but also the violence of the market, of debt, of capitalist property relations, and of the state; the violence of discriminatory policies against lesbian, trans and queer women, the violence of state criminalization of migratory movements, the violence of mass incarceration, and the institutional violence against women’s bodies through abortion bans and lack of access to free healthcare and free abortion.”

Building on the momentum of the women’s strikes in Poland and Argentina at the end of 2016 and the Women’s Marches of January 21st this year, groups calling the strike have highlighted the radical origins of 8th March: the mass strikes of predominantly migrant women garment workers in Manhattan 1908 that inspired the first ‘Women’s Day’; the 1910 International Socialist Women’s Conference where the day acquired its international character; the women’s strike for “Bread, Peace and Freedom” in St. Petersburg on International Women’s Day 1917, which sparked the February Revolution in Russia.

100 years on, the 2017 international women’s strike comes at a time when Russia has just decriminalised domestic violence; when a billionaire man who boasts about sexually assaulting women with impunity is president of the U.S; and when one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Brutal neoliberal austerity policies hit women hardest – particularly women of colour, disabled women, LGBTQ women, working class and migrant women. All over the world it is disproportionately women who work in underpaid, precarious and dehumanising conditions, while simultaneously doing the unwaged, unacknowledged labour of social reproduction.

Collectively remembering the origins of International Women’s Day is a way of re-centring the feminist movement’s radicalism, what Davis and others describe as “a new international feminist movement with an expanded agenda: at once anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-heterosexist and anti-capitalist.”

The Ni Una Menos movements in Latin America have a chant that expresses both the desperation and defiance of this international women’s strike. “¡Vivas nos Queremos!” – “We want to live!”. It is a demand for a life free from violence, but also for another possible world.

AGFS Consultation Response

The Ministry of Justice is consulting on proposed changes to the Advocates Graduated Fee Scheme, which pays barristers and solicitor-advocates to conduct legal aid work in the Crown Court.

The Haldane Society has provided a detailed response to the consultation.  We oppose the proposed scheme which we believe, despite the Ministry of Justice's claim, represents a significant cut to fees.

Download our response here, or read it below.

Solidarity with ‘Legal Community Strikes Back on #F17

Lawyers, law students and legal workers will assemble outside Courts in cities across the U.S at 1pm (ET) today, February 17th, in a strike action called by the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) as part of the #F17 General Strike against the Trump administration. As NLG President Natasha Lycia Ora Bannan states:

“We are facing unprecedented attacks on our most fundamental human rights and are seeing the unfolding of authoritarianism before our eyes. The legal community has no choice but to show up, to defend our communities and to fight back by holding our institutions accountable.”

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers stands in solidarity with this strike action and support the vital resistance of our comrades in the U.S.

In the space of only four weeks since Donald Trump took office, his regime has issued a series of executive orders that constitute calculated attacks on the rights of muslims, women, people of colour, LBGTQ folk, indigenous communities, the environment and working people.

When the media attempts to hold him to account, Trump dismisses truth as “alternative facts”. When recent legal challenges succeeded in blocking his ‘Muslim ban’, the President dismissed the role of the judiciary via Twitter, saying:

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”

Such comments, along with an authoritarian taste for executive orders, reveal the Trump administration's utter disregard for the rule of law and democratic processes. In this context, we believe the legal community has an important role to play in the necessary fightback.

  • By acting as an institutional check on executive power. Taking resistance through the courts, as in the case of challenges to the ‘Muslim ban’. Upholding constitutionally enshrined human rights and civil liberties – of due process, non-discrimination, protections against arbitrary detention and deportation, defending activists and whistleblowers.
  • By showing up. The past month has seen an extraordinary mobilisation of activists taking direct action on the streets, in airports, university campuses and schools across the U.S.  The pro bono lawyers who showed up to airports in the immediate aftermath of the ‘Muslim ban’ – working around the clock to file habeas corpus petitions and intervene in coercive attempts to get people to sign away their rights – show how vital direct legal action on the ground is.
  • By refusing to legitimise. As socialist lawyers we recognise how the legal system can function to confer legitimacy on policies – which is to say ideologies – both instrumentally and rhetorically. We note the danger of any attempt to adopt this ‘business as usual’ approach to Trump’s white supremacist nationalistic agenda. Instead of conferring legitimacy, the legal community must lend our understanding of, and proximity to, the institutions of state power to intervene in its present violence.

As our comrades in the U.S are demonstrating today, the legal community can strike back against the far right and lend its power to resistance. Solidarity to #LawStrikesBack from across the Atlantic.