Fabulous Female: Gareth Peirce

This week’s Fabulous Female is Gareth Peirce, although you shouldn’t feel too bad if you haven’t heard about her. She is a British lawyer, and a very private person, who blankly refuses to answer any personal questions, not even why she chose to be known as Gareth, rather than Jean, which was her given name. Her fame comes from the groundbreaking cases, which she has fought for since the 1980’s. One of the most important human rights lawyers in the UK, she represented the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six during the Troubles in the 80’s, when the UK were hunting down all suspicious Irish men. In more recent times she has been fighting against the counter-terrorism efforts in the UK, for example by representing the family of Juan Charles de Menezes, who was shut down in a botched terrorism raid at the Stockwell Underground Station, as well as Moazzam Begg who were detained at Guantanamo for three years.

The Guardian

She has famously compared the current treatment of Muslims, with the appalling treatment of the Irish in the 1970’s and 80’s, saying: “Muslim men and women here and across the world are registering the ill-treatment of their community, and recognising the analogies with the experiences of the Irish.”

She is a firm believer that the UK too often has used the disguise of law to change its policies – and sacrificing justice in doing so: “Justice has been subverted many times in this country for political ends that seem hard to credit,”.

When asked why she fights for the justice of these men, whom society have deemed pariah she replies: “It’s because the minority has to be protected from what the majority thinks – otherwise the Benthamite thing, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, prevails. Most think secret trials, torture, rendition flights and all the rest – that these things are the right thing to do. But secrecy kills justice: it has the effect of burying understanding.”

Her strength of character, her fight against injustice, is striking when compared to how timid and private she is.   Her professional character has been portrayed in movies and documentaries: Emma Thompson portrayed her in the biographical film In the Name of the Father, based on the Guildford Pub Bombings, but Gareth Peirce wasn’t too impressed with the movie – nor with her on-screen counterpart.
She is incredibly modest, and very critical of her own role in the process. A friend of hers, Sir Ludovic Kennedy, told The Guardian“She is the most impressive by far and away. Once she has taken up a case, which she comes to believe in, what is impressive about her is her certainty that an injustice has occurred. It’s never on the one hand, on the other. And she expresses that certainty in such convincing terms. She never wants publicity for herself. It’s for what she does. She almost wants to be invisible.”
Time asked her:
What are the greatest threats to human rights today? The clear willingness of governments who have a history of considering that rights are entrenched and inalienable, to redefine for themselves what a right is from their own political perspective. And, even more disturbingly, to attempt to avoid compliance with international obligations to which they signed up 60 years ago.
The British government is considering profiling Muslim air passengers in the wake of recent security concerns. Is that justifiable? Have we so quickly forgotten the lessons of the Birmingham Six, imprisoned for 16 years because they were in transit to Ireland carrying mass cards? Is possession of the Koran now to form the same wrong basis for suspicion? 25 years of conflict in Northern Ireland was fueled, not solved, by targeted stigmatization.
In my opinion, Gareth Peirce is an amazing lady, and I think the world would be a much better place if we had more lawyers like her, fighting for the basic civil and human rights of people. Fighting against stigmatization, stereotyping and accusing people on the basis of their demographic, not on the basis of any real evidence. Letting justice suffer, to achieve political gains.
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