1. Shakespeare and the law

I am a patron of Peace Brigades International (UK) and the president of its Lawyers’ Advisory Committee.

I first heard of PBI when I received a letter out of the blue from its indefatigable director Susi Bascon in October 2006, a month after I retired from the Bench.  This led me to having lunch with her and a very brave visiting lawyer from South America, who was one of the speakers later that week at an event I attended at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in the City of London.

That evening represented PBI’s first serious attempt to get lawyers (and in particular, human rights lawyers) in London interested in what they were doing.  Sadly, however, the use of a fairly massive mailing list resulted in very few positive responses, and only about half of those who said they were coming turned up on the nght.

This experience led me early in the following year to visit Susi at PBI’s London headquarters in Highgate, to discuss what we might do to remedy things.   This led in turn to the creation of its Lawyers’Advisory Committee, chaired by Peter Roth QC (now Mr Justice Roth, and another PBI patron).

We meet three or four times a year to discuss ways of promoting PBI’s activities within the UK legal community, of giving practical assistance (whether by way of preparing amicus briefs in national or international courts or in holding meetings for visiting lawyers or other endangered human rights defenders when they visit London), organising fundraising events and, more generally, being at hand to give practical assistance of all sorts of kind whenever a specific need arises.

Earlier this year we had an unforgettable evening at the British Library when a formal session of talks about PBI’s work was followed by a private view of the Magna Carta exhibition, arranged through the kindness of Linklaters.

Last week we had an equally unforgettable evening devoted to “Shakespeare and the Law”. This took place in the Elizabethan Middle Temple Hall, where Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was once staged.   On this occasion I joined two law firms, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Fisher Jones Greenwood, in sponsoring the event.   There is a vivid description of the evening on PBI’s website, complete with photographs.

In addition to the contributions by four well-known actors, Juliet Stevenson, Sam West, Alex Jennings and Sheila Hancock, there was a very fine musical contribution from Fatima Lahham, Sarah Small and Johan Lofving from the Royal College of Music who played, respectively, the recorder, the viola da gamba and the theorbo.  They performed pieces inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and Elizabethan dances by Henry Purcell, Thomas Arne and William Byrd.

The whole evening was of such a high quality that I thought it would be worthwhile to supplement what appears on PBI’s website with the text of the extracts from Shakespeare’s works that were read to us in three separate parts, complete with the excellent commentary supplied to us by Dr Hannah Cornforth and Professor Lorenzo Zucca, both of King’s College London.

With this post I am also therefore posting separate pieces entitled “Shakespeare and Justice”, “Shakespeare and Civil Rights” and “Shakespeare and Legal Language.”


At the end of the evening Juliet Stevenson, who is also a PBI patron, made an appeal for PBI in these terms:

As you have heard, Nelson Mandela found inspiration from the words of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar during his imprisonment in Robben Island. In particular he was struck by the line:

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; The valiant never taste of death but once.”

Courage is a quality Mandela and all Human Rights Defenders share. Around the world, Human Rights Defenders, including those who, like Mandela, practise as lawyers, risk their lives on a daily basis to defend the rights of the most vulnerable communities.

Those brave individuals pay a high price as a result of their work and deserve the support of the international community.

For over 30 years, PBI has sent teams of volunteer observers into conflict areas to accompany and protect Human Rights Defenders who are at risk.

Whether it is travelling with them to remote areas, attending court hearings, or providing 24-hour accompaniment, PBI’s presence restores the confidence of Human Rights Defenders and enables them to continue with their vital work without fear of intimidation.

The life-saving support that PBI provides ensures that lawyers can continue to uphold the Rule of Law without being killed or disappeared, and that those responsible are held accountable for their actions.

In the words of Colombian human rights lawyer Reinaldo Villalba:

PBI accompaniment “ not only gives us the chance to go to areas where we could hardly ever go without this support, but it also gives us confidence to carry on with our work. And it gives more confidence to our families as well, who feel more secure when we are accompanied.

PBI currently works in Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Mexico and Nepal. It currently supports 40 volunteers in the field, as well as undertaking lobbying and research work to protect Human Rights Defenders.

However it receives more requests for protection than can currently be met.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if tonight we could raise enough funds so than PBI can send a volunteer to protect, over the course of a year, one more human rights lawyer, someone perhaps following in the footsteps of Mandela, in his or her own work as a Human Rights Defender?

We want to ensure the vital work of defenders of the Rule of Law can continue. Please help us to make their work more visible and in turn safer.

If you look in your programme, you will find two things: a pledge form which you can complete, following which PBI contact you after the event, and a donation envelope, should you wish to make a donation tonight by cash or by cheque.


I would add it is also possible to help PBI’s work by making a donation through its website.













One thought on “1. Shakespeare and the law

  1. Pingback: Human Rights Defenders and the Death of Berta Cáceres – Henry Brooke

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