Brave lawyers standing up for the rule of law

A year ago Northern Ireland lawyer Rosemary Nelson told The Lawyer: "I'm a firm believer in the rule of law. I find it wholly unacceptable that if you're doing your job and doing it properly you are subject to intimidation and threat."

Last week, as Nelson drove to pick up her daughter from school, a bomb exploded in her car blowing off her legs. Two hours later she died.

Nelson was an unpopular lawyer. She was unpopular because she asked uncomfortable questions, because she represented controversial clients, and because she refused to back down even after numerous anonymous death threats plus blatant verbal and physical harassment by the police.

Nelson's death came a day after John Dickinson and Dominic Lloyd, the two lawyers representing the boys convicted of killing Liverpool toddler James Bulger, were pilloried in the British media for taking the case to the European Commission of Human Rights.

And the bomb that killed Nelson exploded at a time when lawyers all over Britain were standing up in court representing defendants accused of rapes, assaults and murders.

Nelson's death, then, is a salient and all too tragic reminder that lawyers must go against the prejudice of a society and work on behalf of individuals whose alleged crimes revolt and outrage the community.

Lawyers, unlike politicians, cannot be dictated to by the whims of a media that so often engages in Salem-style witch trials. Solicitors like Michael Holmes, who represented Garry Dobson, accused but never found guilty of killing black teenager Stephen Lawrence, are all that stand between Nelson's cherished rule of law and ugly mob justice.

At a time when the Law Society cannot even organise a National Law Day, Nelson's fearless career should install a sense of pride into every lawyer whose family, friends or community ask: "Why are you representing them?"

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Rosemary Nelson would be if the rule of law that she so firmly believed in was allowed to flourish among Northern Ireland's senseless cycle of destruction.