|Born||Jean Margaret Webb
Cheltenham, England, U.K.
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. 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.
She was born Jean Margaret Webb in March 1940 in Cheltenham, the daughter of Margaret (née Twidell) and John Le Plastrier Webb. She has a younger brother, BAFTA Award-winning filmmaker Peter Webb. She changed her name from Jean to "Gareth" during her formative years. She was 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.
In 1974, she joined the firm of the radical 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, 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. In 2008, journalist Nadarajah Sethurupan, the founder of Norway News, appointed Peirce as his solicitor. Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, appointed Peirce as his solicitor in Swedish Judicial Authority v Julian Assange.
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
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. 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.
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". Benedict Birnberg, who first employed her as a solicitor, believes she has "transformed the criminal justice scene in this country almost single-handedly".
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. 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".
She 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 the American painter Waldo Peirce. Bill and Gareth Peirce have two sons, Nicholas and Zachary.
Books by Peirce
- Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice. London: Verso. A collection of her essays for the London Review of Books.
Books with contributions by Peirce
- Tskhinvali: shock and awe. Nottingham: Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation, 2009; ISBN 9780851247571 (edited by Ken Coates); contains a transcript of an interview with Peirce by Moazzam Begg, "Punishing the innocent", as well as contributions from Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Darwish, Stephen F. Cohen, Andrew Mackinlay MP, Mahmoud Darwish, Jean Ziegler, James Petras, and others.
- Extradition: oral and written evidence, 18 January 2011: Ms Gareth Peirce, Solicitor to Mr Babar Ahmad, and Mr Ashfaq Ahmad; Mr Julian Knowles, Matrix Chambers. London: Stationery Office, 2011; ISBN 9780215556981. National government publication.
- Borderline justice: the fight for refugee and migrant rights. London: Pluto, 2012; ISBN 9780745331638 by Frances Webber (Peirce contributes a foreword).
- Setting the truth free: the inside story of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign Dublin: Liberties, 2012; ISBN 9781907593376. By Julieann Campbell. Peirce contributes a foreword.
- From Belfast to Basra, and back again. Claygate, London: Grosvenor House, 2013; ISBN 9781781486528 by Susan McKay (Peirce contributes an introduction).
- Brief biography of Gareth Peirce, thisislondon.co.uk; accessed 4 April 2014.
- Gareth Peirce bio; accessed March 26, 2015.
- Irish Service Awards accessed 1-2-2016
- Jean Webb birth record accessed 3/26/2015
- Peter Webb profile, IMBD.com; accessed 26 March 2015.
- Hostettler, John (2013). Twenty Famous Lawyers. Hook: Waterside Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-1-904-38098-6.
- Andrew Walker,"Profile: Gareth Peirce", BBC News, 10 March 2004.
- "Gareth Peirce", The Times, 21 April 2008.
- 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.
- Stuart Jeffries, "Gareth Peirce: Why I still fight for human rights", The Guardian, 12 October 2010.
- Owen Bowcott, "The Guardian profile: Gareth Peirce", The Guardian, 14 January 2005.
- Law Society website, lawsociety.org.uk; accessed 4 April 2014.
- Linda Tsang, "Farewell to a non-fat cat", The Independent, 25 February 1999.
- Martin Walker and Bernadette Brittain, "IDENTIFICATION EVIDENCE - Practices and Malpractices: A report by JAIL", 1978.
- "WikiLeaks' Assange builds new, less-confrontational legal team". Reuters. 24 June 2011.
- Colin Blackstock, "Muslims face 'dark age of injustice'", The Guardian, 1 April 2004.
- "Gareth Peirce: Tough case", The Independent, 4 August 2002.
- Justice Denied article about Gareth Peirce, Issue 36 (Winter 2007)
- Chamberlain Peirce bio
- "The Three Little Peirces", Life, 12 November 1945, p. 82.
- Zachary Peirce official website; accessed 4 April 2014.
- Profile, checkcompany.co.uk
- Birnberg Peirce & Partners
- Gareth Peirce speech regarding Samar and Jawad, February 2000; accessed 6 August 2014.
- "This covert experiment in injustice", The Guardian, 4 February 2004; accessed 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; accessed 6 August 2014.
- "The Framing of al-Megrahi", London Review of Books, 24 September 2009; accessed 6 August 2014.
- Vanity Fair article on Mouloud Sihali (February 2008, No. 570); accessed 6 August 2014.
- "A Law unto Themselves", BBC Radio 4, Peirce interview with Baroness Kennedy, 4 August 2014; accessed 6 August 2014.