Gareth Peirce

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For the Welsh actor, see Gareth Pierce.
Gareth Peirce
Born Jean Margaret Webb
March 1940
Cheltenham, England, U.K.
Occupation Solicitor, activist
Spouse(s) Mellen Peirce
Children Nicholas Peirce
Zachary Peirce

Gareth Peirce (born March 1940) is a British solicitor and human rights activist. She is best known for her work and advocacy in high-profile cases involving allegations of human rights injustices.

Her work in the case involving Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four was chronicled in the 1993 film In the Name of the Father, in which she was portrayed by Emma Thompson, who was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Peirce.[1][2] In 2015 she was given the Presidential Distinguished Service Award from Irish president Michael D. Higgins for her support of the Irish pople in England and abroad.[3]

Early life[edit]

She was born Jean Margaret Webb in March 1940 in Cheltenham, the daughter of Margaret (née Twidell) and John Le Plastrier Webb.[4] She has a younger brother, BAFTA Award-winning filmmaker Peter Webb.[5] She changed her name from Jean to "Gareth" during her formative years.[6] She was educated at the Cheltenham Ladies' College, the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics.[1][7][8][9]


In the 1960s, she worked as a journalist in the United States, following the campaign of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.[10] 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.[8]

In 1974, she joined the firm of the radical solicitor Benedict Birnberg[11] as a trainee,[7] being admitted to the Roll of Solicitors on 15 December 1978.[12] Following Birnberg's retirement in 1999,[13] she continued to work as a senior partner of Birnberg Peirce and Partners.[8] 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.[14]

During her career she represented Judith Ward, a woman wrongfully convicted in 1974 of several IRA-related bombings, the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, several mineworkers after Orgreave, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes and Moazzam Begg, a man held in extrajudicial detention by the American government.[7] In 2008, journalist Nadarajah Sethurupan, the founder of Norway News, appointed Peirce as his solicitor.[citation needed] Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, appointed Peirce as his solicitor in Swedish Judicial Authority v Julian Assange.[15]

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.[16]

Recognition and reception[edit]

Her 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.[7] 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". She was appointed CBE in 1999 for services to justice, but later wrote to Downing Street asking for it to be withdrawn, accepting responsibility and tendering an apology for any misunderstanding.[9]

Sir Ludovic Kennedy, a campaigner against miscarriages of justice, dedicated a book to Peirce, calling her "the doyenne of British defence lawyers" and that she "refuses to be defeated in any case no matter how unfavourable it looks".[9] Benedict Birnberg, who first employed her as a solicitor, believes she has "transformed the criminal justice scene in this country almost single-handedly".[17]

Michael Gove, a journalist and later a Conservative MP, once described her as being a "passionate, committed and effective supporter of the Trotskyist Socialist Alliance", which he said was committed to destabilising the Establishment.[11] In 2005, Gove told The Sunday Telegraph that as well as serving her clients, she has an "idealism that is motivated by a political agenda".[9]

Peirce was one of the initial eight individuals inducted in March 2007 into Justice Denied magazine's Hall of Honor for her lifetime achievement in aiding the wrongly convicted.[18]

Personal life[edit]

She has been described as a very private person who shuns the limelight and refuses media interviews.[7][9][17] She lives in Kentish Town, North London, with her husband, Mellen Chamberlain "Bill" Peirce,[19] a writer and photographer, son of the American painter Waldo Peirce.[8][20] Bill and Gareth Peirce have two sons, Nicholas and Zachary.[21]


Books by Peirce[edit]

Books with contributions by Peirce[edit]


  1. ^ a b Brief biography of Gareth Peirce,; accessed 4 April 2014.
  2. ^ Gareth Peirce bio; accessed March 26, 2015.
  3. ^ Irish Service Awards accessed 1-2-2016
  4. ^ Jean Webb birth record accessed 3/26/2015
  5. ^ Peter Webb profile,; accessed 26 March 2015.
  6. ^ Hostettler, John (2013). Twenty Famous Lawyers. Hook: Waterside Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-1-904-38098-6. 
  7. ^ a b c d e Andrew Walker,"Profile: Gareth Peirce", BBC News, 10 March 2004.
  8. ^ a b c d "Gareth Peirce", The Times, 21 April 2008.
  9. ^ a b c d e Andrew Alderson and Nina Goswami (5 August 2005). "When Sir Ian heard who the lawyer was, it is likely he let out a long, hard sigh". London: The Sunday Telegraph. Retrieved 7 July 2011. 
  10. ^ Stuart Jeffries, "Gareth Peirce: Why I still fight for human rights", The Guardian, 12 October 2010.
  11. ^ a b Owen Bowcott, "The Guardian profile: Gareth Peirce", The Guardian, 14 January 2005.
  12. ^ Law Society website,; accessed 4 April 2014.
  13. ^ Linda Tsang, "Farewell to a non-fat cat", The Independent, 25 February 1999.
  14. ^ Martin Walker and Bernadette Brittain, "IDENTIFICATION EVIDENCE - Practices and Malpractices: A report by JAIL", 1978.
  15. ^ "WikiLeaks' Assange builds new, less-confrontational legal team". Reuters. 24 June 2011. 
  16. ^ Colin Blackstock, "Muslims face 'dark age of injustice'", The Guardian, 1 April 2004.
  17. ^ a b "Gareth Peirce: Tough case", The Independent, 4 August 2002.
  18. ^ Justice Denied article about Gareth Peirce, Issue 36 (Winter 2007)
  19. ^ Chamberlain Peirce bio
  20. ^ "The Three Little Peirces", Life, 12 November 1945, p. 82.
  21. ^ Zachary Peirce official website; accessed 4 April 2014.

External links[edit]