Afzal in 2016
|Born||1962 (age 56–57)|
|Alma mater||University of Birmingham|
Nazir Afzal OBE (born 1962) is a British solicitor with experience in the legal areas of child sexual exploitation and violence against women. He is a practising Muslim, with outspoken views in favour of women's rights and against forced marriage, female genital mutilation and honour killings.
Afzal spent most of his career in the Crown Prosecution Service, rising to be a Chief Prosecutor in North West England from 2011 to 2015, before leaving the CPS. He then served as chief executive of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. From 2018, he became the Chair of the Corporation Board at Hopwood Hall College in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.
Early life and background
Nazir Afzal was born in Birmingham, his parents having recently emigrated from Pakistan. His father and his father's family worked for generations in catering for the British Army, and one of his relatives was killed by the IRA at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. His family is of Pashtun ethnicity.
He grew up with seven siblings in a two-up two-down in Small Heath, Birmingham. He was bullied and racially abused, and those around him saw no point in attempting to report this to the police.
Afzal has a degree in law from the University of Birmingham.
Afzal worked as a solicitor in Birmingham from 1988 to 1991. In London, he became a crown prosecutor in 1991 and assistant chief crown prosecutor in 2001. In 2011, he was appointed North West chief crown prosecutor covering Greater Manchester, Cumbria and Lancashire. At that point in his career, he made it clear that "prosecutors are public figures and should be out there engaging with the people, explaining themselves via the media." As one of the 13 chief crown prosecutors that cover England and Wales, he was responsible for over 100,000 prosecutions a year and managed 800 lawyers and paralegals.
The first time one of Afzal's cases reached the national news was in August 1992, when the culprits were two supermarket employees who, following an alcoholic trip to the seaside, had sex in a crowded train back to London, and then lit up cigarettes in a no-smoking carriage. Afzal successfully prosecuted them for committing an indecent act and for smoking where not permitted to do so. This case was cited by an American academic in attempting to understand the British culture of tact.
Afzal's prosecutions include a 1996 stalker of Princess Diana. On his promotion and move to Manchester in 2011, he was immediately faced with several high profile cases. One involved a man killed while committing an aggravated burglary, in which Afzal decided that the householder acted in reasonable self-defence. Afzal's team were responsible for the swift prosecution of that summer's looters, a judicial response described by an academic as "shock and awe". The Stepping Hill Hospital poisoning incident occurred that autumn, and 2011 closed with the unprovoked murder of a student from India.
Violence, control, and gender
Afzal is best known for tackling cases involving violence against women and the sexual exploitation of children. Until 2004, he had not been aware of forced marriages and honour crimes happening in the UK, but he was approached by a group of women with compelling testimony. They asked him to use his position to investigate, so he held a conference on the issues and set up a national database, cataloguing dozens of instances of potential crimes. 2005 saw the honour killing of Samaira Nazir; as area director for the CPS, Afzal was responsible for the prosecution of her relatives, and described the beliefs that led to her murder as "tragic and outdated". He thought that such traditional attitudes would die out with the older immigrant generation, but by 2008, by which time he was the CPS's lead on honour-based violence, he realised that young men held the same controlling beliefs about honour and purity, and that education needed to start with primary school children to challenge this. "I have talked to loads of Muslim women and I can tell you that the greatest fear they have is not Islamophobia or being attacked by racists or being arrested on suspicion of terrorism. It is from within their own family."
One of his first decisions on becoming a chief crown prosecutor was to initiate prosecutions in the case of the Rochdale sex trafficking gang, overturning an earlier decision by the CPS. He suggested that "white professionals' over-sensitivity to political correctness and fear of appearing racist may well have contributed to justice being stalled". He said "I do feel that there's a deficit of leadership in some parts of the Muslim community. They could be much more challenging of certain behaviours". He attributed the attacks to "evil men", saying that the key driver was "male power". A New York Times profile said:
Being a man, a practicing Muslim and the son of immigrants from the conservative tribal area in northwestern Pakistan might make Mr. Afzal an unlikely feminist in the eyes of some. But that is how he describes himself — and his gender, he said, is by far his biggest asset. "Women have been talking about these issues for a long time," he said. "I'm not the first person to take up this fight in this country, I’m just the first man, and that makes it a lot easier. I come from these communities. I understand their patriarchal nature. I can challenge them," he continued. "And because I am a man, the men in the community are more likely to listen to me."
Afzal's work against grooming gangs has led to criticism from "members of the Asian community" and from the far right. Regarding far-right campaigns to deport Afzal, he reiterated "I was born in Birmingham. They can deport me to Birmingham if they want to", and said "I think if you are getting it from both sides, you are probably getting something right."
He used his position to stress that abusers were found in all communities, and that the vast majority of paedophiles in Britain are white. In May 2013, he was responsible for the prosecution of disgraced former BBC presenter Stuart Hall. He promised to turn the attention of the CPS to forced marriage in the Traveller community, which he claimed was rife. Afzal put forward the theory, also proposed by Rochdale's then-MP Simon Danczuk, that one explanation for the profile of the town's abusers was the prevalance of Pakistani-origin men in the night-time economy, i.e. as taxi drivers and workers in take-away shops.
In March 2015 it was reported that Afzal was leaving the CPS. A CPS spokesman said "Nazir Afzal is leaving the service as part of [an] on-going drive for efficiency" and that "there has been no impropriety on the part of Mr Afzal".
After the CPS
Once he left the CPS, Afzal began to speak even more widely, and found a large audience for his messages, that violence against women infects all communities, that authorities are still unwilling to believe the victims, and that there is a deficit of leadership in the British Muslim community. "Having prosecuted perpetrators from more than 60 countries and [dealt with] victims from more than 50 countries, I know there isn't any community where women and girls are safe. It's a power thing and power sadly infects every community and therefore our responsibility has to begin with listening to victims and survivors."
Afzal became chief executive of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners in 2016. He resigned from this post, which restricted his political expression, after the Manchester Arena bombing in May 2017 in order to express his views on the topical BBC television programme Question Time.
In 2017 he joined the Complaints Committee of the Independent Press Standards Organisation as its first non-white member. In January 2018 he was appointed, alongside Yasmin Khan of the Halo Project, as an advisor to the Welsh government on issues around violence against women. He "has pledged to make Wales one of the safest places in Europe to be a woman." He often speaks and writes about how much depends on the undervalued leadership of women in small charities, working to combat gender-based problems and extremism in their own communities.
In September 2018 he became Chair of the Corporation Board of Hopwood Hall College. Previous education positions included a Pro-Vice Chancellorship of the University of West London. He is Honorary Lecturer in law at University of Manchester and Pro-Chancellor at Brunel University, London.
In December 2018, Afzal reported Tommy Robinson, the founder of English Defence League, after Robinson had interviewed the 16-year-old suspect related to assault on Syrian refugees at Almondbury Community School. Afzal suggested posting material naming the boy was unlawful.
Representations in popular culture
When he was director of the Crown Prosecution Service for London West, the TV police procedural Law & Order: UK used him "for guidance on plot lines and realism" and designed the set to mimic his office.
Afzal was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in the 2005 New Year Honours. The Manchester Evening News reported that Afzal had "received the CPS Public Servant of the Year award, the UK Government's Justice Award and the Daily Mirror newspaper 'People’s Award'... the Law Society/Bar Council Mentoring award and was selected for the Asian Power 100 along with the Muslim Power 100 list."
Nazir Afzal is a practising Muslim.
He has been married three times. He describes this humorously as "multifaith engagement": "First to an Irish Catholic, then to an Indian Hindu and then to a British Sikh." He has one daughter and three sons.
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