Haldane Winter Party 2017

Join us on 15 December 2017

The Haldane Winter Party 2017 will be on 15 December 2017, at Garden Court Chambers.  Advance tickets are £10 (full price) or £8 (student/unwaged/low waged).  Tickets on the door will be £15/£10; we will accept cash or PayPal.

Entertainment, drink and vegetarian food will be provided throughout the night, within your ticket price.

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AGM and Lecture: What does it mean to be a socialist lawyer?

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Members of the public and of the Society are invited to attend the first installment of our annual lecture series, on 16 November 2017 at 6.30pm.  Our lecture will be on "What does it mean to be a Socialist Lawyer?  A tribute to Michael Seifert."  The main speaker will be Michael Mansfield QC, and there will be time for questions and contributions from the floor.

The event will take place at:
Room S101,
University of Law,
14 Store Street,
London,
WC1E 7DE

AGM

The lecture will be followed by our Annual General Meeting.  The Annual General Meeting passes the policy of the Society, receives reports, and elects the Officers and Executive Committee.

Elections

The following positions will be open to election, and members are encouraged to stand:

  • President (honorary)
  • Vice Presidents (honorary)
  • Chair
  • Vice-Chair (2 positions)
  • Treasurer
  • Secretary
  • Membership Secretary
  • International Secretary
  • Socialist Lawyer Editor
  • Executive Committee Members (number of positions to be decided at the AGM)

The following positions may also be elected at the AGM from within the new Executive Committee, and members are encouraged to stand:

  • Assistant Secretary
  • Assistant Membership Secretary

Nominations for election, along with a manifesto of up to 100 words (statements longer than 100 words will be truncated) may be received any time up to 72 hours before the meeting (i.e. by 6:30 pm on Monday 13 November 2017).  Nominations may also be taken from the floor at the meeting, but these obviously will not be supported by a manifesto.

Motions

Motions may be proposed any time up to 72 hours before the meeting (i.e. by 6:30 pm on Monday 13 November 2017).  Emergency motions may be submitted from the floor at the meeting.

Turkey must release Selçuk Kozağaçlı, head of our sister organisation CHD

The Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, alongside our colleagues and comrades from across the world, condemns the arrest of Selçuk Kozağaçlı on Wednesday 8 November by the Turkish authorities and demands his immediate release.

According to press reports, Selçuk Kozağaçlı was arrested whilst on his way to a meeting concerning the rights of human rights defenders.

The Haldane Society echoes the grave concerns shown by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and Human Rights for the safety of Selçuk Kozağaçlı whilst he remains detained. It is the Society’s understanding that Selcuk is now on hunger strike, although he is still accepting sugar and water. He has declared that if his transfer to court takes more than four days, he will no longer accept sugar and water.

The Haldane Society further notes from that Selçuk Kozağaçlı is one of 17 attorneys arrested in the last two months who has been involved in representing Semih Özakça and Nuriye Gülmen in a case before the European Court of Human Rights (ApplicationNumbers: 46171/17, 45940/17).

The Haldane Society demands the immediate release of Selçuk Kozağaçlı and reiterates its call made on 14 January 2017, that the Turkish government ‘respects the professional work and role of lawyers, and complies in particular with Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as Art. 16 and 18 of the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.

European Union, Brexit – the future of workers' rights

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Support for Brexit as well as any other exit from the EU can be interpreted in different ways. From a workers’ point of view it can be interpreted as strong discontent with the development of workers’ rights and the standard of living of workers. But it can also be interpreted as the success of new nationalistic populism is often fueled by racism.

Those who defend the right to remain in the EU can be neoliberals.  However, they can also be workers and their organisations who want to defend existing European workers’ rights and who want to use the EU to improve workers’ rights and human rights generally.  They can also be those who support freedom of movement of both workers and refugees.

At the conference we will investigate whether the EU can be a framework to safeguard and to improve workers’ rights or if it isan obstacle. We will also discuss strategies to defend workers’ rights under the conditions of Brexit and other exit strategies but also within the countries which remain in the EU. We will discuss this from the point of view of British workers as well as workers in other EU countries as well as in candidate states like Serbia. Finally in this context we will include the view of workers from the, EU, candidate states and Russia.

Register

Register and see the programme here

Undercover political policing and state surveillance.

Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and Campaign Opposing Police Surveillance (COPS) host:

Undercover political policing and state surveillance.

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Meeting Monday 25 September, 7pm -9pm, Auditorium, Brighthelm Centre, North Road, Brighton BN1 1YD.

All welcome including Labour Party delegates, The World Transformed attendees, labour movement activists in Brighton.

Speakers:

  • Richard Burgon MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Justice
  • Helen Steel (Spies out of Lives)
  • Dave Smith (blacklisted trade union activist, Blacklist Support Group)
  • Shamik Dutta, Bhatt Murphy solicitors, representing nine core participants in the Public Inquiry;
  • Mark Thomas (comedian, activist, new book The Liar's Quartet).
  • Chair Liz Davies (Haldane Society).

The Haldane Society and COPS have been actively supporting labour movement, environmental, peace and other left-wing activists and organisations who discovered that they were infiltrated by under-cover police agents aka "SPYCOPS".

More than 1,000 groups have been spied on by Britain’s political secret police, the Undercover Policing Inquiry confirmed in July 2017.

This startling figure was first published in September 2016 in the second edition of Blacklisted: The Secret War Between Big Business and Union Activists. The new official confirmation came from the Inquiry in reply to questions asked by lawyers acting for around 200 significantly targeted people who have been granted core participant status at the Inquiry.

The 1,000+ groups were targeted by undercover units, primarily the Special Demonstration Squad and the National Public Order Intelligence Unit, since the SDS was formed in 1968.

Our speakers Helen Steel, Dave Smith and Mark Thomas have direct experience of being spied upon. Helen Steel has accepted an apology and settlement from the police following its admission that her former partner was an undercover police officer. Dave Smith was a construction site worker, blacklisted for his trade union activities. His book "Blacklisted: the Secret War between big business and union activists" exposed the close connection between employers in the construction industry, the Consulting Association (which kept secret files on trade unionists and provided information to potential employers), and the police. Mark Thomas was spied upon and betrayed when he was active in the Campaign against the Arms Trade, by a close friend who was secretly working for British Aerospace.

Solicitor Shamik Dutta is a partner at Bhatt Murphy solicitors, and represents nine core particpants in the Public Inquiry into Undercover Policing. 

Further information: http://campaignopposingpolicesurveillance.com/about/

Too Stretched to be Flexible

HALDANE CONDEMNS THE FOH PROPOSALS

WE CALL FOR SUPPORT OF ORGANISED NON-PARTICIPATION IN ALL PILOT COURTS

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The Haldane Society condemns the (In)Flexible Operating Hours Proposals (“FOH”) for criminal and civil courts in England and Wales. We refuse to allow 6 months for the pilot scheme to wreak havoc on those most vulnerable at the Bar and those working in criminal firms or working as court support staff.

What is it?

The FOH pilot scheme seeks to extend court sitting hours, operating a shift system in some courts. Pilot schemes will operate for 6 months, beginning in September/October 2017. The proposed pilot courts are Newcastle and Blackfriars Crown Courts, Sheffield and Highbury Corner magistrates' courts, Brentford County Court, and Manchester Civil Justice Centre. Crown Courts will sit from 9am, with a second shift from 2pm to 6pm. Civil courts will sit until 7pm and magistrates’ courts until 8.30pm.

Why We Oppose FOH

Criticisms of the scheme have been raised by the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Criminal Bar Association and the Criminal Law Solicitors Association amongst others. Chairman of the Bar, Andrew Langdon QC, has noted that working the proposed hours would be 'almost impossible' for those with childcare responsibilities. As these duties continue to fall disproportionately on women, female members of the Bar are likely to see the biggest impact on their practice.

This is a backward step in terms of diversity and equality of access. It is an accepted fact that retention of women and ethnic minority lawyers at the Bar is unacceptably low, a position rendered more bleak by the impact of this scheme.

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These proposals will increase the already excessive financial pressure on criminal firms, particularly small practices. Many junior barristers are already warning of the likelihood that they will be forced to leave the Bar should the proposals come into force. It has been argued that the scheme is only a pilot and so should be allowed to proceed. –However, the risks of the pilot can be seen at the outset and are so harmful that the pilot cannot realistically begin: 6 months of an attack on diversity is 6 months too many, and is an attack from which some people’s practices may not recover.

The impact will be felt long before the pilot scheme concludes. The likely long-term results are further closures of firms and more criminal barristers leaving the Bar. The problems will be particularly stark for those with children, caring responsibilities and without family support - precisely the practitioners for whom the Bar should be increasing its support.

There is a mental health crisis at the Bar, arising in large part from poor pay and poor working conditions many barristers face. For women and ethnic minorities, proposals for well-being and mental health support are futile in a working environment that renders it impossible to maintain a practice. Work-life balance is a concept unfamiliar to most barristers. The improbability of being able to prepare cases when sitting late, beginning early and caring for others is a further step in the wrong direction.

Support for Action

The Bar Council Protocol for Court Sitting Hours recommends a basic structure of sitting hours between 10am and 4.30pm, save for emergency hearings, long cases, or in particular circumstances with no less than 24 hours’ notice. Whilst there is much work to be done beyond these proposals, Haldane supports this structure as an initial step towards enabling genuine diversity and equal access at the Bar.

The Haldane Society supports those barristers who refuse to have cases placed into split shift courts, even if this is on the basis that their working hours are already too high or that the case may be returned to someone in chambers who may have caring responsibilities.

The Haldane Society also supports those barristers who intend not to retain instructions when a criminal case is put into a split shift court.

The Haldane Society supports those chambers who have agreed not to accept returned cases in split shift courts.

The Haldane Society supports workers at the criminal Bar, criminal solicitors, paralegals and court support staff.

 

If any workers are struggling financially as a result of the proposed action i.e. from returning work or not accepting returned work, please contact us and we may be able to assist. If there is any other way we can assist with supporting workers in the criminal justice system as a result of FOH proposals and resultant action, please let us know at vicechair@haldane.org. Anything discussed will be on a private and confidential basis.

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.