Human Rights Under Attack: Gareth Peirce on The New Dark Age

For more than 40 years, Gareth Peirce has fought to expose miscarriages of justice and free the wrongfully accused. Based in London, she was instrumental in freeing members of the Guildford Four, who were falsely convicted of carrying out the IRA bombing of a British pub. More recently, she has been representing members of the new suspect community — Muslims falsely accused of being terrorists. Peirce warns eroding human rights under the guise of national security, is a profound attack on democracy.
British lawyer and human rights activist Gareth Peirce. In the 2018 Sir Graham Day Lecture, she warns eroding human rights under the guise of national security is a profound attack on democracy. (Mary Lynk/CBC)
Listen to the full episode53:59

For more than 40 years, solicitor Gareth Peirce has fought to expose miscarriages of justice, and free the wrongfully accused and convicted.

As a young woman, she was a journalist covering Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement in the United States. Inspired by his example, she returned to London in 1970 to study law, specializing in human rights.

In her words, she represents: "individuals who are, or have been, the subject of rendition and torture, held in prison in the UK on the basis of secret evidence, and interned in secret prisons abroads under regimes that continue to practise torture."

Peirce was instrumental in freeing members of the Guildford Four, who were falsely convicted of carrying out an IRA bombing of a British pub. She also represented members of the Birmingham Six and was the solicitor for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.

Gerry Conlon was one of the members of the Guildford Four. 0:52

More recently, she has been representing members of the new suspect community — Muslims.

Peirce warns the erosion of human rights, under the guise of national security, has been a profound attack on democracy.

The huge challenges today to the preservation of human rights don't come out of the blue. They come out of a result of systemic weaknesses in those extraordinary, magnificent treaties: the UN Charter, all the Declarations of Humans Rights…- Gareth Peirce

This episode features excerpts from Gareth Peirce's 2018 Sir Graham Day Lecture in Ethics, Morality and the Law, as well as a conversation with IDEAS producer Mary Lynk. 

Gareth Peirce is a senior partner with the London Law firm, Birnberg Peirce and Partners. She is also the author of  Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice.

From Dispatches from the Dark Side by Gareth Peirce

The last several years have found us in the midst of more such catastrophes than we could ever, in our worst nightmares, have dreamed of. We could never have envisaged that the history of the new century would encompass the destruction and distortion of fundamental Anglo-American legal and political constitutional principles in place since the seventeenth century. Habeas corpus has been abandoned for the outcasts of the new order in both the U.S. and the UK, secret courts have been created to hear secret evidence, guilt has been inferred by association, torture and rendition nakedly justified (in the UK our government's lawyers continue to argue positively for the right to use the product of both) and vital international conventions consolidated in the aftermath of the Second World War — the Geneva Convention, the Refugee Convention, the Torture Convention — have been deliberately avoided or ignored.

Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice is published by Verso Books, 2012.

By the sea with Gareth Peirce

Gareth Peirce with IDEAS producer Mary Lynk. (CBC)

For more than a year, I'd been in correspondence with Gareth Peirce. The human rights lawyer has little time for distraction, whether from the media, the public or even the Queen — she declined becoming a Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In fact, Gareth has never even seen the award-winning film about the Guildford Four, In the Name of the Father, in which she's portrayed by Emma Thompson. Daniel Day-Lewis stars as her former client, Gerry Conlon.

Eventually, and to my own surprise after several entertaining email exchanges, Gareth agreed to come to Halifax and give the Sir Graham Day Lecture in Ethics, Morality and the Law. In part, she readily admits, because the modest lecture fee could be help pay for DNA testing for one of her incarcerated clients client, a young British Muslim man who she believes has been falsely accused of terrorism.

Gareth gave her lecture on a Friday, but stayed the weekend: the airfare was cheaper, so she could put aside more more money for her clients' cases. After all our work was done, Gareth — an unapologetic 78 year-old workaholic — took some time off, and we travelled up and down Nova Scotia's south shore. It was during our sojourn that I had the chance to get to know this intensely private woman a little, to witness the workings of her absolutely stunning mind up close, and marvel at how she remains fiercely devoted to her clients. She's also warm, humble and funny. And, by the edge of the sea, mesmerized by the wild surf, she stood silently, a warrior relaxed and content, if only for this rare, brief moment. – Mary Lynk

VIDEO | Watch the Sir Graham Day Lecture in Ethics, Morality and the Law by Gareth Peirce


Further reading:


**This episode was produced by Mary Lynk.

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