A Walk Down a Long Road with Ian Macdonald QC – tribute letter by Professor Gus John
19 Nov 2019
Professor Gus John is Associate Professor of the UCL Institute of Education and Visiting Professor of Coventry University.
A Walk Down a Long Road with Ian
Like you, I’m still reeling from the news of Ian’s sudden departure from us and I send condolences to each and every one of you.
Garden Court has been part of my journey these last 50 years and I was delighted to connect again with so many of you, including Owen Davies and Courtney Griffiths, at Ian’s 80th birthday bash in June this year.
His words ring in my ear:
‘Civil liberties, from a working class point of view, are about having the space in which to engage in political struggle – to organise alternative bases of power which can lead to the transformation of society, to record the struggle as it progresses and to express, in theory and in practice, an independent class position. This space is always contested and the occupation of any part of it carries no security of tenure’.
My journey with him has been full of highlights, highlights of fun, daring and achievements against untold odds…. even when we were losing. It is a journey that started when as a 22 year old theological student I joined CARD (the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination), led by the late David Pitt and Anthony Lester in 1966, when Ian was proving much more radical and savvy in his understanding of structural racism as practised by the state than those pioneers were prepared to be.
The work we did in CARD was instrumental in causing Harold Wilson and the Labour Government he led to enact the 1968 Race Relations Act and establish the Race Relations Board. It is that same understanding of the state, reeling as it was (and still is) in its attempts to reconfigure and redefine itself at the end of empire that Ian brought to the analysis and critique of immigration policy and practice that was to become the hallmark of his historically acclaimed contribution to immigration law and practice.
Ian was very supportive of the work I did as a youth worker at the Metro Youth Club and the Cryptic One Youth Club (in the crypt of St Michael’s Church, Paddington) in 1968, while simultaneously working as a grave digger at Chiswick Cemetery and sharing a house in St Quentin Gardens, Ladbroke Grove, with the carnivalist, Selwyn Baptiste. My community work in Ladbroke Grove led to my joining Ian, Peter Kandler, Rhodan Gordon, John O’Malley and a few others to establish the first law centre in the UK, the North Kensington Law Centre, which opened in 1970 with Peter Kandler as its sole solicitor.
Needless to say, the principal issues the law centre engaged with at that time were to do with racial discrimination, welfare rights, especially housing and welfare benefits and policing. Police corruption was rife, with framings and brutality par for the course, as we as youth and community workers experienced far too often. Targeting and harassing young people on their way to and from youth clubs, or as they followed sound systems was regular police practice. We as youth workers were therefore constantly turning up at police stations to ensure the welfare of young people and at juvenile courts to vouch for them.
It was the activities of the Notting Dale police and the infamous PC Pulley in particular that led in time to the community protest that gave rise to the famous Mangrove Nine prosecutions in which the advocacy of the young and fearless Macdonald played such a major part in positioning that trial as a political as distinct from the criminal trial the Notting Hill police wanted it to be. There is no doubt that Ian’s advocacy in that trial laid the foundations on which he continued to build as an advocate, especially in the area of human rights and criminal law.
In reflecting upon our journey, it is important to highlight the period when the police routinely criminalised young black people and when solicitors and barristers for the most part, in dealing with black defendants, young and older alike, operated with either a presumption of guilt on the part of those defendants, or that their pleas of innocence won’t be believed by the bench. Plea bargaining was rife and I shudder to think just how many people ended up with a criminal record as a consequence of being advised to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence on the grounds that they would probably be found guilty irrespective of their protestations of innocence. When in 1971, Derek Humphry, staff reporter on the Sunday Times and I, freelance journalist, were conducting research for the book, Police Power and Black People (Granada 1972), it was not unusual to hear stipendiary magistrates challenge defending lawyers with statements such as: ‘….Are you suggesting that my police officers are lying?’.
In time, Ian became a champion of a method we in ‘The Alliance’ of the Black Parents Movement, the Black Youth Movement, Race Today Collective and Bradford Black Collective adopted of placing defendants at the centre of their defence against police/CPS prosecution and having solicitors and barristers work with their testimonies and not be led by their instinctive reactions to the police/prosecution’s account of events and the circumstances surrounding them.
This approach was crucial not just in cases involving individual young people or adults, but in prosecutions arising out of civil unrest (rebellions, demonstrations, sit ins) and police surveillance. It is an approach which characterised the work of the Moss Side Defence Committee, of which I was Chair following the Moss Side uprising in July 1981. It is one that the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, Manchester, readily embraced as they supported us in preparing the defence of scores of young people snatched off the streets during and in the days following that youth rebellion.
Ian’s record on dissecting and challenging immigration legislation is legendary and has rightly earned him the moniker ‘Father of immigration law’. I well remember the excitement in law centres and especially among community organisations and advice centres dealing with immigration cases when he published Immigration Law and Practice in 1983. Until then, it was not even assumed that those affected could challenge and hold to account the police and other enforcers of immigration law, which was becoming more and more racist with each iteration. If the 1968 Race Relations Act was geared towards prohibiting discrimination against those of us already here, the 1971 Immigration Act was about preventing more like us from coming in or claiming a right to remain.
Ian did more than most academics, social analysts and political commentators to highlight the racialisation of immigration and to establish the link between immigration law making and implementation, human rights violations and the oxygen such a racist approach to immigration gave to forces on the extreme right. His work and that of the founders of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) in 1984, which Ian chaired until 2014, was instrumental in making immigration law a legal discipline in its own right and enabling access to justice for the vast number of people impacted by immigration, citizenship and nationality laws and the work of the UK’s border force. The fact that 36 years later, a generation of lawyers, lay advocates and advice workers could still bank on ‘Macdonald’ as the immigration law bible is evidence of Ian’s scholarship, intellectual muscle and unwavering commitment to holding the state to account and defending the rights and entitlements of those whom it capriciously seeks to exclude.
The rule of law is a fundamental principle at the core of every democracy. But, safeguarding that principle and the defence of the individual against oppression and tyranny on the part of other citizens, or of the state and its apparatuses requires there to be the most robust challenge to bad law and to the state’s abuse of the law. Ian excelled at that, much to the annoyance of the state and certain members of the judiciary, not only in immigration cases but in high profile political cases such as prosecutions under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. His position on the Government’s ‘Prevent’ programme, especially as that related to the profiling and indiscriminate criminalisation of young Muslims and to the duty placed on universities and other education providers to engage in intrusive surveillance acted as a boost to many of us in our efforts to resist the mindless implementation of Prevent, especially in schools and universities.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, also, his advocacy played a pivotal role in our struggles against police use of the ‘sus’ law under Section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824. The ‘sus’ law was eventually repealed on 27 August 1981 and the police abuse of it was thought to have contributed in no small measure to the massive civil disorder in Britain’s inner cities that summer, which invariably took the form of rebellions against the police. More recently, Ian mounted legal challenges to the government’s deportation practices on behalf of families targeted under its ‘hostile/compliant environment’ regime.
Garden Court was established and incubated a set of radical young lawyers at a time when we were all expected to be part of a consensus which held that human rights violations happen in backward or totalitarian countries far from our own shores. Domestic human rights legislation and practice seemed to be almost a contradiction in terms. And then came Ian and the Garden Court set who, with a limited number of other human rights specialists, raised the lid on the extent of human rights abuses on the part of the state in this country. In fact, on 5 September 2019, following the launch of A ‘Race Today Anthology’ at the House of Commons, Ian and I had dinner together a stone’s throw from Garden Court and spent some time discussing the need to deal with school exclusion, especially the growing number of children with special educational needs and disabilities being permanently excluded from school, as human rights violations. That was to be the last time I saw him.
On 18 January 1981, a massive fire engulfed 439 New Cross Road in Deptford in the borough of Lewisham where Yvonne Ruddock and Angela Jackson were having a joint birthday celebration, resulting in the deaths of 13 young people in the fire and one more a couple years later. The Metropolitan Police’s investigation of the fire added another layer of trauma to already traumatised survivors, as did the Coroner’s inquest. The bereaved families were represented at the inquest by Ian Macdonald, Mike Mansfield and Rock Tansey, all of whom had to do battle with the Coroner, Dr Arthur Gordon Davies. Davies refused to take notes of evidence and simply read from police statements, even when he was summing up for the benefit of the jury, who returned an open verdict.
The families experienced the entire hearing as biased and the New Cross Massacre Action Committee which had supported them in preparation for the inquest worked with them to demand a new inquest. As lawyers for the families argued, the fact that the Coroner refused to take notes during the hearing was illegal under Section 6 of the Coroner’s Act 1887. The initial investigation by the Metropolitan Police was also called into question. In May 1982, the Attorney General granted the families leave to appeal against the open verdict.
On 17 September 1986, Ahmed Iqbal Ullah, a 13 year old Bangladeshi student was stabbed to death by Darren Coulburn, a 13 year old white classmate at Burnage High School in South Manchester in an act of aggression that was felt to have been racially aggravated and premeditated. Five months later, Darren was convicted of murder at Manchester Crown Court and sentenced to be detained ‘at Her Majesty’s pleasure’. The local Bangladeshi community demanded an independent inquiry into the circumstances of the murder and in 1987, Manchester City Council commissioned Ian to conduct an inquiry into racism and racial violence in Manchester schools. He immediately drafted in Reena Bhavnani, an education consultant and freelance researcher, Lily Khan, a former commissioner with the Commission for Racial Equality and me, then deputy director of education (post 16) in the Inner London Education Authority, as members or his inquiry team.
We reported our findings to Manchester City Council in January 1988. The city council refused to publish our findings on the basis of legal advice, fearing that they might be sued by individuals named in our report. The Manchester Evening News leaked the report’s main findings in April 1988, thus provoking a national debate on anti-racism in education. In 1989, the inquiry team published the full report in book form with the title Murder in the Playground.
Although the Thatcher government was consulting on putting in place a National Curriculum at that precise time, as enacted in the Education Reform Act 1988, Kenneth Baker MP, then education secretary refused to place a copy of the book in the House of Commons library, let alone make a statement to the House about the implications of the report for schools and the way they dealt with racism.
Ian worked closely with us in The Alliance over some four decades both as a lawyer and a political activist, supporting a number of campaigns, including anti-deportation campaigns (Cynthia Gordon, Nasira Begum, Jaswinder Kaur, and Nasreen Akhtar) led by the Manchester arm of the Black Parents Movement (which I chaired) and the Asian Youth Movement (AYM), as well as acting as defence counsel in a number of high profile cases.
For campaigning against the deportation of Begum, Kaur and Akhtar, which their husbands and in-laws were insisting upon, we in the Black Parents Movement (Manchester) and the AYM were opposed vehemently by the Islamic Council and the Central Mosque in Victoria Park, Manchester. Ian stood by us firmly, endorsing our position that ‘two things were uppermost in our minds: the need to ensure that the women’s safety was never compromised (they had all escaped domestic violence and were living in women’s shelters) and the need to emphasise that they had a human right to be treated with dignity and respect and to be free from violence. They were not the property of their husbands and therefore their right to stay in the country should not depend upon them continuing to put their lives at risk in an abusive and harmful marriage’.
Two cases I would highlight, both involving Alliance campaigns in which Ian acted as defence counsel are: the framing of George Lindo, a Bradford resident of Jamaican background on a charge of robbery with violence by the West Yorkshire Police in August 1977 and the trial in 1985 of Jackie Berkeley, a black woman, who having accused police of raping her in Moss Side police station was charged with assaulting police officers and wasting police time. George Lindo was accused of holding up and robbing a betting shop at knifepoint. The Bradford Black Collective, modelled on the Race Today Collective with which it formed an alliance in 1977, launched a campaign to free George Lindo, a campaign spearheaded by the wider Alliance of which Bradford Black was now a part.
Despite Lindo’s protestations of innocence and credible alibis, the prosecution depended almost exclusively on a written confession he was alleged to have made, a confession which Lindo claimed had been extracted from him under duress, with the police officers involved telling him what to write. A jury convicted him in February 1978 and he was sentenced to 5 years in Armley jail, a conviction against which he immediately appealed. It transpired that one of the police officers who had extracted the confession from George Lindo had been under investigation for allegedly ‘manufacturing statements’ in an unconnected inquiry.
On 7 November 1978, the deputy chief constable of West Yorkshire Police wrote to the Court of Appeal informing them that the police were investigating allegations against one of the officers who had given evidence in Lindo’s trial, adding, extraordinarily, that:
‘this officer had not himself taken any statement from Mr. Lindo, being the junior in a team of three; and stipulated that the information given should remain confidential to the Registrar and should in no circumstances be disclosed to the defence…’
The Lord Chief Justice overruled the West Yorkshire Police and details of the investigation of that officer were provided to the defence team. George Lindo’s conviction was quashed in June 1979.
Jackie Berkeley was arrested on 19 April 1984 during an altercation in the street with a group of women and was taken to Moss Side police station where as she later alleged, she was stripped, racially abused and raped. She was detained in custody until she appeared in court on 21 April, charged with assaulting police and criminal damage. She was granted unconditional bail, meaning that she could have been released on the same day as her arrest. Three days after her release, she complained to a youth worker that she had been beaten up and raped while detained in Moss Side police station, a police station which had a notorious reputation for abusing young black people and which they nearly burnt down during the 1981 rebellion.
In October 1984, after numerous police interviews and being required to make endless statements, she was charged with making a false complaint and wasting police time. The four police officers she accused on the other hand, were allowed to make self-recorded statements in December 1984, a full two months after Jackie had been charged and eight months after the alleged rape. Jackie was given charges which precluded her from electing to be tried by jury. She and the Jackie Berkeley Defence Campaign, led by myself, were vilified by a hostile press and in court she was confronted with a stipendiary magistrate, Glynmoor Jones, who vented his indignation at her evident inability to talk loudly about the rape: ‘I’m quite sure you speak much more loudly than that at home’. He showed no inclination to even consider that she was withdrawn and depressed.
Ian addressed the bench for three hours. He clearly demonstrated that the police evidence was contradictory and unreliable. By the time it came to the summing up speeches, there was still so single agreement on any one detail that led up to Jackie’s detention and subsequent rape as alleged. He dwelt at length on the fact that Jackie had no motive for falsely accusing the police of rape and had been warned repeatedly about the consequences of so doing. He devoted much of his speech to how society deals with rape and the social, political, racial, emotional and physical reactions to rape, particularly of a black woman. He dealt with the attitudes of the policemen and women to Jackie and the other black women defendants and further that Moss Side police station was ‘an outpost of barbarity’. His speech, the trial itself and the media coverage of it rather highlighted the political, social and racial attitudes that dominate Britain.
In the end, Glynmoor Jones determined that Jackie Berkeley was a liar, arguing that she had failed to tell her own mother about the rape when she visited her while still detained by the police. In his words as he gave his verdict: ‘One would have expected her to have blurted it out to her mother’ and that it was a full five days before she reported it to the youth worker. He found her guilty of all charges bar one, that being criminal damage to the police van and gave her a 6 month and 15 day prison sentence, suspended for 12 months.
When Ian emphatically told Glynmoor Jones the verdict was ‘unacceptable’, the courtroom erupting in deafening applause and shouts of protest. As I wrote at the time:
‘The courtroom of the Stipendiary Magistrate had rubber-stamped the prosecution case (against Jackie Berkeley), the people’s court had found her innocent…. The verdict and sentence demonstrate two things. The magistrate had fulfilled his obligation to Moss Side police, the DPP and the Police Federation. At the same time, the power of the campaign ensured that he found it impossible to send Jackie Berkeley to prison’.
Ian was an active supporter of the International Bookfair of Radical Black and Third World Books which The Alliance, New Beacon Books and Bogle L’Ouverture Publications variously organised between 1982 and 1995 and contributed as a speaker at the accompanying Book Fair Festivals. In 1991, the Bookfair’s director, the late John La Rose and a group of fellow political and cultural activists, including Sarah White, Linton Kwesi John, myself and others, founded the George Padmore Institute (GPI) at 76 Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park in North London. GPI is an archive, library, educational resource and research centre that houses ‘materials relating to the black community of Caribbean, African and Asian descent in Britain and continental Europe’. The Institute also hosts talks and readings, as well as other educational and cultural activities.
Ian remained a member of the GPI until the last and was actively committed to its development as to that of New Beacon Books and the family of the Black Parents Movement.
With John La Rose and all of us, he dared to ‘Dream to Change the World’.
We salute you, dear comrade!