Magazine article The Spectator

One to Admire

Magazine article The Spectator

One to Admire

Article excerpt


by Michael Mansfield Bloomsbury, £20, pp. 496, ISBN9780747576549 . £16 (plus £2.45 p&p) 0870 429 6655

The English Bar is no longer immune to the celebrity culture.

There are lawyers' equivalents to Hello! magazine and the Oscars ceremony; lists of the 100 most, top ten, five to follow, proliferate.

But peer and public recognition do not always coincide. To that rule Michael (or more usually Mike) Mansfield is a notable exception. He is indisputably the most highprofile barrister of his generation, both within and beyond the profession, and for that reason alone his memoirs, published to celebrate what he claims to be his retirement from practice, were always likely to be of interest.

Expectations are amply fulfilled. This is essentially a fascinating and passionate record of the author's major cases in courts, inquests and public inquiries, whose context will be as familiar to the general reader as to the lawyer, and which concerned or raised issues beyond the narrowly legal.

The roll call includes the Angry Brigade, the Birmingham Six, the miners charged with public-order offences after the strike of 1984, Barry George (accused of the murder of Jill Dando), the Marchioness disaster, the Strangeways riots, the Bloody Sunday inquiry, and the inquest into the shooting of Jean de Menezes.

Mansfield was not destined to be a lawyer, still less a radical one, by heredity, upbringing or education. He came from a middle-class family of conservative views, was educated at Highgate, a public school where he was an ornament of the Cadet Force, and Keele (he failed admission to Peterhouse), and was influenced in his choice of career by his fascination with that mid-Fifties American television series, The Defenders, and by his mother's success in defeating a charge for a parking offence.

What does this book suggest were the ingreqdients of his successes? Utter fearlessness in the face of hostile tribunals, a way with juries - whose role, he believes, should be enhanced, not, as recent legislation has contrived, diminished - extraordinary stamina, a naturally sceptical and questioning mind (he has a firstclass degree in philosophy) and an obvious fascination with science; he might have been an inventor, and many of his triumphs stemmed from his ability to test expert evidence, be it of DNA, fingerprints, graphology or statistics, exposing with uncomfortable frequency miscarriages of justice. …

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