Mark George

At the height of the criminal barristers’ strike last summer I received an email that read: “As you know the PCS union has called strike action for the magistrates’ courts for 10-18th September… I’ve suggested to our organiser in the NW that we make contact with PCS members to see if they will bring their banner and members to the next demos. I’m sure you’re well ahead of me but it would be great if you could organise something similar outside whichever court is being used in London.”

Shamefacedly I had to confess to the author of those words, Mark George, that I was not “well ahead” and that instead, I needed to run to catch up.

A month later it was Mark who I messaged when the Ministry of Justice finally offered the Criminal Bar Association a deal to end the barristers’ action. He was busy, combining his own practice with his role as Head of Garden Court North Chambers, but he replied immediately.

His response was characteristically astute. He agreed that the offer was inadequate and added: “Ask a junior barrister Is this enough to prevent you from walking away from criminal work at least in the next 12 months? If the answer is ‘No’ then there’s really no point accepting the deal.”

A couple of days later we listened with interest as those young barristers expressed their opinion in no uncertain terms when the deal was discussed at a national meeting.

Unfortunately, that was the last ever discussion I had with Mark. I was shocked and saddened to learn that he had died on 20 December after a short struggle with cancer. 

I never had the privilege of working with Mark but have heard from those that did about his brilliant advocacy and the compassion and commitment he showed to his clients. I did however have the great pleasure of sharing a platform with him several times including at a conference for law students in Winchester and at the SWP’s Marxism festival.

On those occasions, he spoke passionately about the fight for justice by miners involved in the 1984-5 strike and by the families of Liverpool football fans who died at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. I was deeply impressed at the clarity of Mark’s presentations and the humility he showed towards those who approached him.

There are not many like him at the Bar. He will be sorely missed.

Brian Richardson

Dedicated to the battles of working people

Mark George’s total commitment to fighting injustice—from Hillsborough to Orgreave to Death Row in the US—was shaped by his grounding in revolutionary socialist ideas.

He nearly joined the priesthood as a teenager, then became a Marxist as a student at Cambridge University where he joined the Socialist Workers Party. He was a leading member of the SWP in Sheffield during the 1980s before concentrating on his legal career.

Mark, who gained a degree in Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic studies, was determined to become a lawyer after seeing TV footage in the mid-1960s of American police officers beating civil rights demonstrators. 

Many of his first cases involved defending protesters arrested while stopping the National Front march in Lewisham, south London. in 1977. He also represented protesters from political groups, environment campaigners, printworkers and animal rights activists. 

He campaigned against the death penalty in the US where he worked with the Amicus organisation training young lawyers. 

Mark defended miners during the year-long strike in 1984-85, later unravelling police lies and exposing fabricated evidence in the Orgreave show trial. He represented a number of the families at the Hillsborough inquests. 

It was witnessing the full might of the state being used against the miners that reinforced his political stance.  

He wrote: “As a young barrister I drove from Ollerton in Nottinghamshire to Worksop to the magistrates’ court for a remand hearing. I was given a lift by my client and a couple of his mates, all striking miners. On our return to the village after court we were required to stop at a police roadblock on the approach to the village and justify our presence. That was the reality of life under police occupation.”

As Mark himself said about another radical lawyer, Ian Macdonald, you “can be a socialist and a lawyer and you can work to ensure that working class people have the assistance of dedicated advocates who will fight for their rights against the power of the state.”

Phil Turner

A Socialist Worker interview with Mark George is here

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