Law Society calls for action as human rights lawyer receives death threats

The Law Society has publicly condemned threats made against the lives of lawyers after prominent human rights lawyer Phil Shiner received death threats against both him and his family.

Phil Shiner has been subject to intimidation and harassment over the last 10 years as a result of his work for Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) and their cases representing Iraqis in war crimes cases.

Recently, Mr Shiner and PIL have worked on a number of issues including the Al Sweady Inquiry relating to Iraqi detainees, non-nationals receiving legal aid for judicial review cases and the decision by the International Criminal Court to investigate war crimes by the UK in Iraq.

As a result of his human rights advocacy work, Mr Shiner has experienced threats and intimidation for nearly 10 years, with, at one stage, a police investigation launched into the threats and a 2010 threat that led to a prosecution under the Malicious Communications Act 1988.

The Law Society understands that, as a result of a recent rise in the negative media attention paid to PIL, Mr Shiner has received an increasing number of abusive emails and phone calls.

As part of its ongoing work to advocate the rights of lawyers, the Law Society has written to the chief constable of West Midlands Police urging all sensible steps are taken to protect lawyers in this firm and to ensure that wrongdoers are brought to justice.

The Society will also seek the assistance of the Lord Chancellor to ensures proper enquiries are made into the threats to Mr Shiner and his family have received, Measures should also taken to ensure their physical and psychological wellbeing.

Phil Shiner said:

‘The threats made against PIL, my family and me are distressing, to say the least. It is apparent that some people object to and disapprove of the work carried out by PIL, but the directing of abuse at PIL for the legitimate work we do to uphold the rule of law in a democratic country cannot continue unchallenged.’

Nicholas Fluck, past president of the Law Society, said:

’Every citizen in this country enjoys the protection of the rule of law. That is a precious right. Those rights depend on lawyers presenting their client’s cases without fear or favour no matter how unpopular or unattractive some might regard those clients or the cases brought before the courts.

’We are all the poorer and less free if the lawyers representing such cases are threatened or placed under duress as Mr Shiner has experienced.

’It is precisely because of the role that lawyers play in free societies that under the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, governments must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation.

’All lawyers should be able to carry out their legitimate work freely and without fear of reprisal. As such, the Law Society has today written to the chief constable of West Midlands Police Force and the home secretary urging them to address Mr Shiner’s case promptly.

‘The Law Society recognises that lawyers play an integral role in our society, and effective steps need to be taken to put an end to the kind of harassment Mr Shiner and his associates have experienced, and to help guarantee other lawyers are not subjected to the same intimidation.’