Jean Margaret Webb
March 1940 (age 81)
|Other names||Gareth Peirce|
|Alma mater||University of Oxford and London School of Economics|
Gareth Peirce (born Jean Webb, March 1940) is a British solicitor and human rights activist. She has worked on a number of high-profile cases involving allegations of human rights injustices. Her work with Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four – wrongly convicted of bombings carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army – was chronicled in the film In the Name of the Father (1993), in which she was portrayed by Emma Thompson.
Peirce was born in March 1940 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, the daughter of Margaret (née Twidell) and John Le Plastrier Webb. She changed her name from Jean to "Gareth" during her formative years, but never divulged to anyone the reason for doing so. Her parents ran Bentham Grammar School in North Yorkshire, which she attended until she took her O-levels. She was subsequently educated at the Cheltenham Ladies' College, the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics.
In the 1960s, she worked as a journalist in the United States, following the campaign of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. Married, she returned to Britain in 1970 with her husband and elder son and undertook her postgraduate law degree at the London School of Economics. Her younger son was born in London after her permanent return to England.
In 1974, she joined the law firm of solicitor Benedict Birnberg as a trainee, being admitted to the Roll of Solicitors on 15 December 1978. Following Birnberg's retirement in 1999, she continued to work as a senior partner of Birnberg Peirce and Partners.
In the mid-1970s, she supported specific campaigns for legal reforms of police procedures that permitted the prosecution and conviction of persons based solely on identification evidence. Individual cases then very much in the news led to the establishment of Justice Against the Identification Laws (JAIL), an organisation which Gareth Peirce supports.
During her career she represented Judith Ward, who had been wrongfully convicted in 1974 of several IRA-related bombings, the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, several mineworkers after the Battle of Orgreave, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes and Moazzam Begg, a man held in extrajudicial detention by the American government.
Of her defence of Muslim suspects accused of terrorism, Peirce has said:
We have lost our way in this country. We have entered a new dark age of injustice and it is frightening that we are overwhelmed by it. I know I am representing innocent people; innocent people who know that a jury they face will inevitably be predisposed to find them guilty.
Recognition and reception
Peirce's role in the defence of the Guildford Four was dramatised in the 1993 film, In the Name of the Father, with Peirce portrayed by Emma Thompson. Peirce has reportedly never watched the film, and stated in 1995 that she was "an extremely unimportant participant in the story" but was "given a seemingly important status".
Sir Ludovic Kennedy, a campaigner against miscarriages of justice, dedicated a book to Peirce, calling her "the doyenne of British defence lawyers" who "refuses to be defeated in any case no matter how unfavourable it looks". Benedict Birnberg, who first employed her as a solicitor, believes she has "transformed the criminal justice scene in this country almost single-handedly".
In 1999, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by NUI Galway.
Peirce has been described as a very private person who shuns the limelight and refuses media interviews. She lives in Kentish Town, North London, with her husband, Mellen Chamberlain "Bill" Peirce, a writer and photographer, son of American painter Waldo Peirce. They have two sons.
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- "The Three Little Peirces". Life. New York City. 12 November 1945. p. 82.
- Birnberg Peirce & Partners
- Gareth Peirce speech regarding Samar and Jawad, February 2000. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- "This covert experiment in injustice", The Guardian, 4 February 2004. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- "Was it like this for the Irish? Gareth Peirce on the position of Muslims in Britain", London Review of Books, 10 April 2008. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- "The Framing of al-Megrahi", London Review of Books, 24 September 2009. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- Vanity Fair article on Mouloud Sihali (February 2008, No. 570). Retrieved 6 August 2014.
- "A Law unto Themselves", BBC Radio 4, Peirce interview with Baroness Kennedy, 4 August 2014. Retrieved 6 August 2014.