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Gareth Peirce is an English solicitor, educated at the Cheltenham Ladies' College, the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics. She is known for her work in high-profile cases involving miscarriages of justice, and those of people accused of Irish and Islamist terrorism.
Given the forename Jean, she dropped it for her middle name Gareth while still quite young. Her date of birth is not known but in 2008 she was said to be in her sixties and The Sunday Telegraph reported that she was aged 65 in 2005. She is described as being a very private person who shuns the limelight and refuses to be interviewed by the media. She lives in Kentish Town, North London, with her husband Bill (Mellen Chamberlain) Peirce (b. 1930), a writer and photographer, son of the American painter Waldo Peirce and his third wife, Alzira Peirce. They have two adult sons, Nicholas and Zachary, the latter a painter and photographer who was born in London in 1974.
In the 1960s, she worked as a journalist in the United States, following the campaign of Martin Luther King. Married, she returned to Britain in 1970 with her husband and first son, Nicholas, and undertook a postgraduate law degree at the London School of Economics. In 1974 she joined the firm of the radical solicitor Benedict Birnberg as a trainee, being admitted to the Roll of Solicitors on 15 December 1978. Following Birnberg's retirement in 1999, she continued to work as a senior partner of Birnberg Peirce and Partners.
In the mid-1970s Peirce supported specific campaigns for reform of laws and police procedures that permitted the prosecution and conviction of persons solely on identification evidence. Individual cases then very much in the news, such as the George Davis Is Innocent campaign and numerous others, led to the establishment of Justice Against the Identification Laws (JAIL), an organisation that Peirce supports. During her career she has represented Judith Ward, a woman wrongfully convicted in 1974 of several IRA-related bombings, the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes and Moazzam Begg, a man held in extrajudicial detention by the American government. In 2011, Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, appointed Peirce as his solicitor in Swedish Judicial Authority v Julian Assange.
Her role in the defence of the Guildford Four was dramatised in the 1994 film In the Name of the Father, with Peirce portrayed by Emma Thompson. Peirce has reportedly never watched the film and stated in 1995 that she was "an extremely unimportant participant in the story" but was "given a seemingly important status".
Sir Ludovic Kennedy, a campaigner against miscarriages of justice, dedicated a book to Peirce, calling her "the doyenne of British defence lawyers" and that she "refuses to be defeated in any case no matter how unfavourable it looks". Benedict Birnberg, who first employed her as a solicitor, believes she has "transformed the criminal justice scene in this country almost single-handedly".
Michael Gove, a journalist and later a Conservative MP, once described her as being a "passionate, committed and effective supporter of the Trotskyist Socialist Alliance", which he said was committed to destabilising the Establishment. In 2005, Gove told The Sunday Telegraph that as well as serving her clients, she also has an "idealism that is motivated by a political agenda".
Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice, a collection of her essays for the London Review of Books, was published in 2010. Of her defence of Muslim suspects accused of terrorism, Peirce has said:
We have lost our way in this country. We have entered a new dark age of injustice and it is frightening that we are overwhelmed by it. I know I am representing innocent people; innocent people who know that a jury they face will inevitably be predisposed to find them guilty.