Endangered lawyers: Climate of intimidation ‘re-emerging’ in Northern Ireland

first_imgAttacks on Northern Ireland solicitors and law officers in press and parliament have led to harassment and credible death threats against lawyers, the Gazette has been told. As the legal profession worldwide marks the ‘Day of the Endangered Lawyer’, alleged UK government indifference has attracted international criticism.Highly personalised attacks on lawyers involved in ‘legacy’ cases from the Troubles, through inquests, civil actions or prosecutions, have been made in the Daily Mail and the Sun. The Sun has named and photographed a number of solicitors and their offices and published details of the value and rough location of family homes. A piece in the The Sunday Times’ Dublin edition labelled lawyers the ‘legal auxiliaries’ of the Sinn Fein-IRA ‘family’.Criticism in parliament has included a reference to ‘extreme nationalist-leaning individuals in the Northern Ireland justice system’, taken to be a reference to Northern Ireland’s first Catholic DPP Barra McGrory.Pádraig Ó Muirigh, director of Belfast human rights firm O’Muirigh Solicitors, was told by police to review his personal security three years ago, as his movements were being monitored. Others, including solicitors from Belfast firm KRW, report death threats and abuse on the streets and online following press coverage. ‘It’s become more difficult in recent times,’ he added.A strongly-worded letter on the subject sent last summer to the Prime Minister and to then-Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire by the president of the 24,000-member New York City Bar, John Kiernan, has been seen by the Gazette. Kiernan expressed ‘a series of concerns surrounding the recent climate of intimidation that has been re-emerging for lawyers in Northern Ireland’.Kiernan added: ‘It is particularly disquieting that government officials appear to have contributed to this climate of intimidation, both by failing to adequately intervene in response to these threats and by engaging in their own attacks on lawyers.’Solicitors who are the subject of criticism point out that they have clients across the divide.The atmosphere of threat has special resonance for Northern Ireland lawyers: solicitor Pat Finucane was shot in front of his wife and children in 1989. Another solicitor, Rosemary Nelson, was killed by a car bomb in 1999.KRW consultant Christopher Stanley said: ‘Unregulated social media avenues to vent anger against us may soon result in violent direct action. Those in the public sphere – whether protected by privilege or not – must have a duty of care to both their law officers and their legal profession not to encourage such random outbursts of hatred with its fearful results.’last_img