Prominent international human rights lawyer, Caoilfhionn Gallagher has received death threats including one saying she will be murdered like Pat Finucane
Amnesty urges ministers to step back from the irresponsible verbal attacks on lawyers and judges
‘We fear reckless rhetoric from government ministers is putting a target on the backs of lawyers. In Northern Ireland, we have seen where such dangerous talk can lead’ – Patrick Corrigan
Amnesty International is calling on UK government ministers to step back from rhetoric attacking lawyers and judges after a prominent London-based Irish barrister reported receiving death threats in recent weeks.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is investigating a series of “intimidating” tweets sent to a Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) academic by a loyalist, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Three complaints have been made by Colin Harvey, a professor of human rights law in the School of Law at QUB, about multiple social media posts in February, June and earlier this month.
PSNI Superintendent Gerard Pollock said the complaints relate to “social media comments directed towards an individual”.
“An investigation has commenced to establish if any offences have been committed and enquiries are continuing,” he said in a statement.
Professor Harvey, a fellow of the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice and an Associate Fellow of the Institute of Irish Studies, has been repeatedly criticised on social media for expressing his views on constitutional matters, Brexit, the Protocol, the Conservative Party and unionism.
He has regularly tweeted about social issues affecting a post-Troubles Northern Ireland, his favourable view of a united Ireland and his criticisms of loyalism and unionist leadership.
The Sunday Independent has viewed dozens of tweets directed at him by mostly anonymous social media accounts claiming to be from a British, loyalist or former security forces background.
When Prof Harvey suggested it “was time” to bring the Union “to an end”, a Twitter user replied: “We used to behead traitors like this.” Another wrote: “Colin Harvey should be called off.”
Outspoken loyalist Jamie Bryson, who has connections to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), has tweeted about Prof Harvey almost 50 times.
When the academic wrote: “The Irish government needs to take direct responsibility for enabling the collective effort of preparing for the future of a shared island,” Mr Bryson, a regular commentator on some BBC Northern Ireland programmes, was quick to respond.
In a tweet, he wrote: “QUB making pretty clear they have moved beyond policy and research and are now partisan activists.”
Prof Harvey said the online abuse he has faced “often feels like a coordinated campaign” and appears to be closely linked to his academic work and public engagement on questions around the constitutional future, in particular the option of a united Ireland.
The Law Society of Northern Ireland has criticised the UK government over “attacks on lawyers” representing victims and survivors of the Troubles.
In a short statement, the Law Society said it had formally lodged concerns about the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation Bill) and its “non-compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights”.
The controversial bill, which is opposed by Northern Ireland political parties, the Irish government and human rights organisations, will end criminal prosecutions, inquests and civil actions related to killings during the Troubles.
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis is currently facing a defamation lawsuit from Belfast-based KRW LAW LLP over allegedly defamatory comments he made last month about lawyers representing clients in legacy cases.
The Law Society said: “The Society reiterates its call for attacks on lawyers by members of the government in relation to this bill, and other matters, to cease immediately.
“Solicitors provide vital support to victims and survivors of the Troubles to access truth and justice and should not come under attack for doing their jobs.”
The CCBE has said that that attacks against the legal profession now take place in countries where a certain level of respect for the rule of law exists, including EU or Council of Europe member states.
In its end-of-year newsletter, body has reiterated its support Council of Europe work for the establishment of a new legal instrument on the profession of lawyer.
The CCBE has welcomed the recent decision of the Council of Europe to set up a new committee on the protection of lawyers to draft the new legal instrument.
The organisation believes that there is a clear need for adopting a new binding legal instrument on the profession of lawyer “accompanied by an implementation mechanism in order to guarantee the proper administration of justice and the respect of the rule of law”.
The goal of the legal instrument will be to strengthen the protection of the profession of lawyer and the right to practise the profession without prejudice or restraint.
The CCBE believes that none of the existing non-binding instruments cover comprehensively all the issues such as:
Law students and lawyers in Afghanistan are filing reports with JURIST on the situation there after the Taliban takeover. Here, a Staff Correspondent for JURIST in Kabul offers his observations on a Taliban move to take direct regulatory control of defense lawyer licensing, shifting that from the country’s bar association. For privacy and security reasons, we are withholding our Correspondent’s name. The text has been only lightly edited to respect the author’s voice.
The Taliban have changed the regulatory authority of the defense lawyers from the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association to the Ministry of Justice.
The Ministry of Justice of the Taliban announced yesterday that all defense lawyers and those who had a license from the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association should come to the Ministry of Justice for obtaining a license. Affairs related to the defense and licensed lawyers used to be regulated by the “Advocate Law” in the country. The Advocate Law provides that the Afghanistan Independent Bar Association shall issue licenses for the applicants. In Afghanistan, those who graduated from law and sharia are eligible for a license.
According to the Advocate Law, obtaining a license in Afghanistan is subject to an exam like other countries.
The Ministry of Justice has warned licensed lawyers and those who are applying to obtain a license to come to this ministry for the license, otherwise they will not be able to work as a defense lawyer.
Bringing the defense lawyers under the structure of the Ministry of Justice means that the Taliban are looking to further regulate this area in the country. The Ministry of Justice have not provided any information whether or not the Advocate Law will be amended and/or the procedures for issuing the license will be changed.
The Ministry of Justice already have the Legal Aid Directorate under its structure and that is meant to provide legal assistance for the people who cannot afford hiring a lawyer to represent them before the courts. Adding a new department to regulate affairs related to the defense lawyers from the Bar Association, in my opinion, will decrease the donor funds and international assistance to this entity.
We wrote to the Ambassador of Myanmar in the United Kingdom
What’s the issue
We’re concerned about the military coup that took place in Myanmar and the violent repression of protesters, including through the firing of live ammunition which has resulted in numerous casualties.
These actions represent serious human rights abuses. We’re also alarmed by accounts of arbitrary arrests and detentions, as well as alleged enforced disappearances of lawyers.
We’re also alarmed about reports of ongoing intimidation and harassment of lawyers, as well as lawyers being prevented from providing legal assistance to detained protesters.
These actions deprive the citizens of Myanmar of their access to justice, violate international fair trial guarantees – including the right to have legal representation of one’s own choosing – and the principle of independence of the legal profession. These rights and principles are cornerstones of the rule of law and must be upheld.
We’re particularly concerned about the following cases:
The Law Society has expressed “deep concern” about the British Government’s recent decision not to hold an immediate public inquiry into the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989.
In a letter to the British Ambassador Mr Paul Johnston, the Law Society’s President James Cahill says that the Law Society’s Council, at its meeting on 11 December, “re-affirmed its now decades-old policy of demanding that the British Government immediately establish an independent public inquiry into the likelihood of State collusion in the heinous murder of Pat Finucane”.
The letter calls on the ambassador to convey the Society’s condemnation to the British Government, and to ask it to reconsider its position.
“Pat Finucane, in his representation of his clients, defended the rule of law and ensured access to justice, despite the threat this posed to his own safety, a threat that proved fatal when he was brutally shot on 12 February 1989 in front of his wife and children,” Mr Cahill writes.
“His killing sent a message to other lawyers practising in the North that they, too, could be targeted for defending their clients if this challenged certain sectarian interests, and that such lawyers would not be protected,” he adds.
Standing in solidarity with endangered lawyers
Mr Cahill says that the Rule of Law stands as a cornerstone in a properly functioning democracy, but it requires constant vigilance.
“For this reason,” he adds, “the Law Society of Ireland frequently stands in solidarity with endangered lawyers all over the world where they are threatened for their defence of human rights by their opponents, and State authorities collude in such oppression or fail to act to prevent it.
“Accordingly, I am writing to express the solidarity of the Law Society with the family of Pat Finucane in seeking an effective public inquiry into his death, one that is capable of establishing the facts behind his murder and, in particular, the full extent of State collusion in same,” he writes.
The sister of murdered unionist politician Edgar Graham challenged the hypocrisy of Sinn Fein as she addressed a poignant ceremony to mark the 35th anniversary of his death.
Anne Graham spoke at a memorial service outside the university yesterday for her brother, who was shot dead by the IRA in 1983.
Mr Graham was a barrister and law lecturer as well as a promising politician, tipped as a future leader of the Ulster Unionist party.
Wreaths were laid at the spot where he died, across from the Queen’s Film Theatre, during a service organised by students.
Unionist politicians attending the event included former First Minister Lord Trimble, UUP leader Robin Swann and DUP MP Emma Little-Pengelly.
A lone piper played a lament after a minute’s silence.
Speaking to the crowd, Ms Graham said the memorial was occurring on a bright day but that it was a dark day when she lost her brother.
“I heard on the 11am news headlines that a politician had been shot at Queen’s,” she said.
“I knew instantly it was Edgar.
“Minutes later, as I tried desperately to find out what hospital he was being taken to, it was announced that Edgar Graham had been shot dead at Queen’s. The world pretty much stopped and changed for me then.”
No one has ever been convicted of Mr Graham’s murder.
His sister has been a vocal critic of Sinn Fein, saying that it had never condemned the killing of the barrister.