Caribbean controversy rages

Write to: The Editor, The Lawyer, 50 Poland Street, London W1V 4AX, fax 0171 970 4640, e-mail, DX44700 Soho Square.

Your issue of 17 May 1999 had a headline on the front page "Browne-Wilkinson slams City lawyers". Neither the quotations from the interview on the front page nor the full article on page 23 support that headline.

It is damaging both to the solicitors and to a judge if he is reported as having criticised identified solicitors who habitually appear before him. When those firms act pro bono in an attempt to save those condemned to death, the damage is the greater. Not surprisingly, there have been protests both from solicitors and from members of the Bar who do these cases in the Privy Council pro bono.

In the interview, two points among many others were discussed. First, the workload of the Law Lords; second, the role of the Privy Council as ultimate Court of Appeal from independent Caribbean states. The workload of the Law Lords includes, I estimate, about 25 per cent of its time being spent on Caribbean appeals. If these appeals were, in the future, to be stopped from coming here that time would be made available for the additional jurisdictions of the House of Lords and Privy Council under the Devolution Acts and Human Rights Act. That would be the consequence of, not the reason for, stopping Caribbean appeals. It would also have been the position if pro bono lawyers had not so effectively and generously taken up the case of such people on death row. As to the second point, I expressed my own view that Caribbean appeals should end since they are disliked by the nationals of the Caribbean countries: they see such appeals as a survival of colonial rule which hinders them from hanging convicted murderers.

Neither of these topics has anything to do with the merits of pro bono lawyers who, under the system as it currently exists, have fought bravely and skilfully for those on death row in the Caribbean. If pro bono lawyers were not doing this work, many would hang who should not. I have unlimited admiration for their work both because of its quality and because of its generosity. To say that I "slam" them, is wholly untrue.

Browne-Wilkinson, House of Lords