Monday, 10 February 2014

Gemma Lindfield




Gemma Lindfield has a lot to say about media warping of extradition issues and Government interference. We chatted as we travelled to and from Sky News' studios at Millbank when she was invited in as an expert talking head on the Boulton & Co show, taking part in a live studio discussion on the Italian Amanda Knox verdict and whether US authorities would be likely to honour an Italian extradition request. While we were waiting in the "green room", (actually a small sofa in their reception), the story of the Dewani extradition broke, so Gemma was neatly on hand to answer questions about that at the same time.

Gemma is an extradition expert at 7 Bedford Row.  Publicly she is perhaps most famous for representing the Swedish authorities on the Julian Assange case, and other high-profile cases, such as her current involvement in a Rwandan extradition request for 5 men accused of genocide and crimes against humanity. Professionally, she is best known for her work acting for judicial authorities, governments AND defendants in extradition proceedings, and the near-unique 360 degree view this gives her of the issues that can arise from any angle. She has worked on some of the most legally and politically complex cases to date.  There are few people in town who can beat her expertise in this area, so no wonder Sky have been keen for a while to have her as a guest.

The point she talked to me about with such passion as we travelled to the studio and back is how media reporting of unusual, high-profile extradition stories can skew public perceptions of the issues, with politicians then stepping in to quell their fears and start posturing… on issues that just aren’t that relevant.

"Theresa May's recent "intervention", [her eleventh-hour amendment to Immigration Bill to make it easier to deport foreign-born criminals] is a classic example. It comes on the back of the public's hostile reaction to difficulty the UK Government faced removing convicted terrorist Abu Qatada from our shores” [coined the “The Abu Qatada Problem”].  “This type of law reform is playing to the public gallery. But these high profile cases are exceptional and that's why they attract the media attention they do; by definition they are classic "man-bites-dog = interesting" stories, in contrast to the much more common run-of-the-mill "dog-bites-man" cases.  And of course the problem with changing the law as a knee-jerk reaction to a few freak, high-profile cases, is that it will be applied to the much larger number of cases going on below the radar that most people never get to hear anything about ...and this makes justice that much harder to achieve.  There's a reason our constitutional law places such great emphasis on the separation of powers, i.e. making sure our Executive (= political), Legislative and Judicial authorities are independent from one another to provide for natural checks and balances; it's dangerous when misinformed public opinion has unchecked power to direct new law.

"I remember the plight of a young mother I represented, wanted by Poland for possession of 5 grammes of amphetamine from her troubled teenage years. I came on board at the appeal stage and noticed when my client reached for a cup of tea that she had self-harm scars. Gently exploring the background to them revealed a very difficult childhood where drugs provided an escape. This young mother had turned her life around in the UK and there was a real risk that her son would be damaged by her extradition and that history may repeat itself. Near tragedy was averted, her extradition was scheduled for her son’s first birthday after a successful application to the European Court of Human Rights for what is called Rule 39 relief, an interim measure to prohibit extradition where the court feels there is a merited application that will be made.

"I do believe the European Court of Human Rights is an important check on government excess. And that it is also important legal aid is preserved and quality representation afforded by those who have a specialist knowledge of human rights. Surely this is something a fair and just society should provide."   

Other topics we covered in the taxi back from the studio ranged from social media, her passion for shark preservation (the irony is not lost on her) to shoes. I'm delighted to tell you that Gemma has joined the legal twitterati, her profile describing her as "barrister with sparkly shoes". You can see why I like this woman so much.
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So almost 20 years after The English Patient, Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas reunite for another great love story: The Invisible Woman tells the tale of Charles Dickens' secret mistress.

Fiennes and Scott Thomas sizzled on screen for us in 1996. Is The Invisible Woman a return to their romantic form? Not quite: although Fiennes plays the part of lover with the usual reserved passion that sets his female fan base alight, and to critical acclaim I'm told, Scott Thomas' performance on the other hand has far less romantic conviction... because she is cast as Dickens' mistress' mother! Tells you all you need to know about the difference between the casting possibilities for men and women past the age of 50. And Scott Thomas has not been shy to speak out on the topic. Read here ....

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Amongst the saddest news this week was the untimely death of award-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, lost to a drugs overdose at just 46. The man who shone in roles such as Freddie in The Talented Mr RipleyBrandt in The Big Lebowski and the very chilling Lancaster Dodd in The Masterwill be remembered for both the depth and range of the characters he brought us. And since watching his Oscar-winning turn as Capote in the eponymous film, I can't help but conflate the two personas, the actor and the character. 

Philip Seymour Hoffman, we will miss you. 

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