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I’ll Ask the Questions: Sunny Jacobs

In this series of interviews I have had the good fortune to meet a number of people who have had a real passion and understanding of the law. Some have wanted to uphold it and some to amend it. During the last month I have however met a lady, who had no interest in the law at all. She kind of “fell into the system” so to speak. At 26 years of age she had the American dream; a husband Jesse Tafero who was her “soul mate” and two “wonderful children”. Then one evening she met Walter Rhodes and experienced the American nightmare. She was ultimately to spend seventeen years on death row. This is the story of Sunny Jacobs in her own words.

On the evening of 20th February 1976, Sunny Jacobs through the failing of her motor vehicle “it was the kind of car that just spewed black smoke” was forced with her family to take a lift with one of Jesse’s friends ex-con Walter Rhodes.

The journey through Florida was tiring and eventually it was agreed that they take a rest and a few hours sleep. They pulled over into a rest area. A state trooper Phillip Black and a visiting Canadian Constable Donald Irwin were undertaking a routine inspection of the vehicles in the rest area.

“Well there was nothing going on, there was no crime, we had just pulled over to a rest area which is part of the highway and we were resting. There was no reason for anything happening”

But something did happen. A gun was spotted between Rhodes’ legs. Black radioed in details of the gun to the police station to discover that Rhodes not only had a criminal record, but was on parole. “that changed everything because having a gun is a violation of your parole and he was immediately going to be taken back to prison, that was it. And that created a different situation.” 

As Rhodes had no intention of going back to prison, he pulled out a second gun and fired.

“I covered the children [in the car]. And then when the shooting stopped I looked up to see where Jessie was…… to see if he was ok. And he was standing there in the middle of the cars. And Walter Rhodes was running between…., around the cars with a gun in his hand saying that we were to take the police car and to hurry”.

Black and Irwin were dead. Rhodes had shot and killed both of them.

“Walter Rhodes then ordered us in to the police car. At that point we were kidnapped. Because we did not have a choice. Jessie said that if we did not listen to him he might kill us as witnesses so we had to go with him”

Rhodes bundled his captives in the police car and within moments was driving at speed in an attempt to evade the chasing police helicopters and cars. In the melee that followed Rhodes was shot and injured and Sunny, Jessie and their family were released from his custody into the polices’.

“Oh I thought we were being rescued.  When the police came I thought that that was our salvation, but then as they did not really know what was going on they just arrested everybody. And that was the beginning of the ordeal.”

Whilst Sunny and Jessie were explaining that they were merely in the wrong place at the wrong time and that they were little more than innocent bystanders Rhodes was painting a somewhat different story from his hospital bed. “He’d been in prison before, he knew how the system worked. And so he was claiming that he didn’t do it – we did.”

Rhodes entered a plea bargain on the basis that he had not been involved in the crime and that more than that Sunny had shot the officer twice before Jessie had taken the gun from her, shot the officer for the third time and then killed Irwin. Evidence was hidden by the Prosecution which would have proven that neither Sunny nor Jessie had fired the gun. In Sunny’s case the Prosecution also presented the testimony of a jailhouse informant Brenda Islam:

“They brought in a girl who had been in jail for drug charges, she was afraid, they got her to testify, that I had spoken to her in jail, because they needed something more against me. She later went on national television. She told what happened to her. She told how if they wouldn’t tell the truth, then I have to and I hope that Miss Jacobs will accept my apologies.”

Over twenty years later I asked Sunny for her thoughts on Brenda Islam.

“I feel that she was very heroic. She was desperately afraid even then”

When you say that she was heroic?

“To come forward and say that she had done something like that. Now everybody knows, her neighbours didn’t know about her past and yet she needed to right the wrong and so she put herself out like that and shamed herself in order to make things right. I think that that was quite heroic.”

But I digress. With tainted evidence, a plea bargain the details of which did not come before the Jury both Sunny and Jessie were charged with the murders.

“I really thought that as soon as they took us to court they would figure out that I did not do it and I would be let go. Anybody who knew me for five minutes would know that I would not kill anybody…I was one of those peace and love people. I was a hippy and a vegetarian, how could you possibly think that I could kill someone”.

Both were found guilty. Both were sentenced to the death penalty. The Jury in Sunny’s case recommended a life sentence. But Judge Daniel Futch Jr, himself a former Florida Highway Patrol trooper, who coincidentally just happened to keep a miniature replica of an electric chair on his desk, imposed the death penalty.

To extenuate matters, as if that is possible under the circumstances Sunny was then imprisoned in solitary confinement for the next five years.

“Yes because I was the only woman in the United States at that time who had a sentence of death. That was what they did. They did not feel that they could put me with the men or with the population of women and they thought that people with death sentences have nothing to lose so I would be a threat to the population so I was housed in isolation. Really what amounted to solitary confinement for five years.”

So you spoke to no one?

“Basically not. I was the only one who lived in that building. So the only sound I heard was the sound that I made. It was more like a tomb than a cell, really. I finally got a court order to allow me four hours of interaction with my peers each week to give me..,”

Four hours a week?

“Yes, basically the equivalent of what the men had and as there were a number of men on death row at the time they had each other and I did not have anyone so I had four hours a week and the occasional visit.”

But Sunny refused to wait idly by for her appointment with the executioner. Appeals were lodged and numerous lawyers appeared on her behalf. But you have to ask how she coped with it all.

“I was very angry. And I had lost faith in everything that I had been taught to believe in, including God”

It was clearly a horrendous experience, one with which many people would simply not cope.

“At one point I just made a decision. If I didn’t do something, then they may as well have killed me. I would be dead. Because I was losing my sense of identity and I was made to believe that I was just a whole lump of flesh, who could be locked up in a cage, no name, I had a number and that this was all that there was to it. And I was to just wait in this cell until they decided, that they were going to kill me. First of all, I decided it was not for them to say when I died, for there was a higher authority in the universe and until it was such time for me to die, then my life was still my own and did not belong to them. They could just restrict my movements”

After five years on death row Sunny was released into the general prison population and did not as it happens stop talking for the next three days, until rather ironically she lost her voice. The following year she lost her parents.

“My parents decided that maybe they could go on a vacation for once and not have to come to prison. So they dropped my daughter off with Jessie’s parents and went off for a holiday and unfortunately on the way the plane crashed and they were killed. And that was…that was the most difficult day of my life.”

And what of Jessie?

On the 4th May 1990, after fifteen years of incarceration Jessie Tefaro was executed by the electric chair. It was to be the last time that they used the electric chair in Florida, before rather reassuringly switching to lethal injection.

“It took thirteen and a half minutes for Jesse to die. Three jolts of electricity that lasted fifty five seconds each. Almost a minute. Each. Until finally flames shot out from his head, and smoke came from his ears”

Jessie did not have the benefit of the same legal team which finally assisted in having Sunny exonerated.

“Jessie had a prior record. When somebody has a prior record they are considered no good anyway. You are criminal. So if you did not do this then you will be doing something else. As such the system is comfortable in putting him away. Jessie’s trial lasted four days and then he was convicted and sentenced to death by his jury. My trial took two weeks because I did not have that kind of a record and I was a mother and it took longer.”

Perhaps rather unsurprisingly she continues to have fears and concerns about the debate over capital punishment and the criminal legal system in America.

“That is why they call it capital punishment. If you do not have the capital then you took the punishment. That is the way it is. No rich ends up in death row. The prosecutor’s office selects the cases that will be death cases. They select them. So they select the ones that they are going to win. They select the cases where the person has limited means to defend themselves, maybe they are uneducated, if this piece of evidence is not presented then well.”

And Sunny is in a unique position to evaluate this disease.

“In every one of the cases that I know about, that I have spoken to, between 30 and 40 of the exonerated in America and there are over 115 of them now. In every case there are prosecutorial misconduct; hiding of evidence which could have in the first instance shown their innocence; admission of false evidence; there is the plea bargain; and the jailhouse informant. Those are the elements that are always there. Always. I even met a man from Ireland who was an exonerated and we talked about the cases. And the same method. The face of injustice is the same everywhere.”

In October 1992, Sunny Jacobs was finally released from prison on the basis that she entered a plea in which she did not admit guilt.

“The police escorted me to the door with my little box of belongs. That was all I had after 17 years. And opened the door and handed me my box and told me to have a nice life”

In many ways Sunny seems incredibly reconciled with the hand that fate has dealt her. Hers in not a story of anger, bitterness or even hatred. Hers is one of optimism, of love and of her future, whatever it brings. She has a new husband (himself a former exoneree of the Irish legal system) a loving family and dogs to walk.

“The prize for me is that I have a beautiful life now. That is the prize; otherwise I might be a bitter woman blaming somebody else.”

Sunny’s story is presently being shown, with others in the Exonerated until the 11th June 2006 at the Riverside studios in Hammersmith and tickets can be obtained via the box office on 020 8237 1111 and via the website



I’ll ask the Questions: Zahida Manzoor

When Zahida Manzoor decided to impose an unprecedented fine on the Law Society of England and Wales in the sum of £250,000 for failing to handle its complaints service adequately, she undoubtedly got their attention. She also got mine! Manzoor is in a unique position; not only is she the first Legal Services Complaints Commissioner but also the Legal Services Ombudsman and whilst perhaps not looking for a fight with the Law Society; she is determined to bring its complaints handling into the twenty first century, by hook or if necessary by crook. As such I rather felt I had little choice but to interview her about her life, her passions and her challenges with the Law Society.

Zahida Manzoor was born in Rawlpindi Pakistan in 1959 and moved to West Yorkshire when she was just three years old. Her father a member of the army unfortunately died twenty five years ago. “He was my kind of inspiration” Her mother had the unenviable task of bringing up five children, including Manzoor who confessed “I must admit I was a bit of a Tomboy, cycling around and getting into all sorts of scrapes that perhaps I should not have been getting into!” Oh how times have changed!

In common with a number of my other interviewees, Manzoor is both passionate and a workaholic. “I want to make sure that there is a right, just and fair society for all. I felt that no matter what I did, I always wanted to do something for the good.  I know that sounds very idealistic but it is something that is within me.”

So Manzoor began her working life as a nurse, midwife and as a health visitor. “I moved very quickly.  I qualified in all of those roles. Let me give you an example, when I was a health visitor I worked in Durham during the miners’ strike. Once again that began to bring home the issues about public services. Where changes needed to be made. Fairness for all. Access, equity and accessibility.”

From there she went on to sit on both the NHS Policy Board and the Commission for Racial Equality, holding the position of Deputy Chairman from 1995 to 1998. She also chaired Bradford Health Authority and the NHS's Northern and Yorkshire regional executive. “We wanted to improve services in terms of access for patients and for consumers. This was really key and fundamental to me. Getting real improvements in waiting times; getting real improvements in looking at the money that was being spent; how it was being spent and where it was being spent. Real grassroots improvements in service that patients could actually see.”

She was to be rewarded for her dedication.  In 1998 she was made CBE for services to Race Relations and the Health Service and the following year voted National Asian Woman of the Year.

But arguably her biggest challenge was still to come. In 2003 the Lord Chancellor appointed her to the role of Legal Services Ombudsman for England and Wales and a year later she was also made the Legal Services Complaints Commissioner.

So before we get too carried away with all these successes I thought that I should ask about the two roles and what they were really all about?

“Well I am the Legal Services Ombudsman and in that role I assess individual complaints that come to me from consumers who are dissatisfied by the service that they received from any one of the six legal professional bodies, which includes the Law Society and the Bar Council. “

And presumably ILEX?

“Yes.  Yes it does. Those complaints, by statute, have first got to go to the individual Lawyer or Executive concerned.  They then go to their professional body and then, if the consumer still remains unhappy with the service that they received, they can refer that complaint to me.”

So it is a very long drawn-out process. 

“Yes. I sit at the apex of the complaint-handling systems as Ombudsman but I review individual complaints as the Legal Services Ombudsman.  As Legal Services Commissioner, this post really is looking at the systems and processes of the Law Society, and asking the Law Society for a plan in terms of how it will improve its complaint-handling.  I was appointed to this post as well as the Ombudsman’s posts, simply because the Law Society was failing to deliver the improvements in their complaint-handling.”

One of the improvements being sought was that the Law Society should reply to the majority of complainants within 60 days instead of the present 90 days. So before dealing with the Law Society, let me check are you happy and satisfied with ILEX’s complaints-handling?

“I do not see very many complaints coming through to me from ILEX at all.  In fact, I can not recall if I have seen one this year.  In the scale of things I really do not get any concerns or complaints in that area”

Well that appears to be excellent news. But it does sound like the two posts could constitute something of a conflict of interest. Well certainly that appears to be the view of the Law Society in the past?

“Well, can I put it bluntly?

Oh please do

“Well. Utter rubbish.  I think it is just a red herring.  I was appointed to the Legal Services Ombudsman post. The Commissioner position was advertised at the same time. If the Lord Chancellor felt it necessary, he could also appoint whoever was appointed as Legal Services Ombudsman to the role of Commissioner. He did. So the decision was made well before I was appointed.  There is no conflict of interest at all between the two.  One as Ombudsman reviews individual cases, the other one has oversight of the Law Society, fulfilling its complaint-handling and to set its targets and review its progress against the plans it submitted to me, with a view to assessing what improvements it has made in its own systems and processes and indeed what improvements it has brought about in its complaint handling.”

Asked and answered. It was in fact the Chief Executive of the Law Society Janet Paraskeva who made the comment.

“Yes I know. I am not quite sure where she is coming from. I have a role to do.  I have a job to do.  So let us talk about what the real issues are.  Which are improving performance and improving the Law Society’s complaint-handling.  Let us tackle those issues. These are the real and meaningful issues. Both in the interest of the Law Society and of the practitioner as well.”

Alright – no conflict. I get it. So what do people complain about?

“Usually about their Lawyer not following advice; following instructions; not giving costs information; not keeping them updated.  Perhaps not turning up to Court; poor communication; being rude; being overbearing; giving bad advice or giving no advice.  Not giving options. Communications; costs and the delays appear to be the biggest factor.”

Readers take note. So why do you think the Law Society is getting it so wrong?

“Well, I think, certainly the Law Society’s Council has made quite a lot of money available for its complaint-handling.”

That’s thirty-eight million pounds.

“Yes.  This seems a slightly staggering amount of money, for the number of complaints that they deal with.  Having done independent audits of the Law Society’s systems and processes, there is an awful delay, in terms of the way that those cases go through their systems and processes.  I think they can be better managed.  They need to become much more efficient in how they deal with complaints than they currently are. But perhaps they are not getting as much value out of that money as they should.  My view would be perhaps the legal profession should be asking what they're getting for their thirty-eight million.”

The Law Society estimates that it will receive between 17,000 and 20,000 complaints between April 2006 and the end of March 2007. If you do the maths that is an awful lot of money being spent per complaint.

“Well, I think you are absolutely right, Jason, to say that the Law Society needs to be looking at its processes and tightening up those. Very much so.  It needs to be looking at the flexibility of its workforce.  It needs to be looking at how many cases they have, as opposed to how many people they have in management positions.  I understand they have something like just over four hundred people in the complaint-handling service, of which I understand just over two hundred are case-workers.  Now I don’t have to hand the exact job titles or what the other perhaps nearly two hundred people do, but perhaps these are the areas that the Law Society needs to look at. I would like to see much greater improvement at a much faster pace than currently is the case.”

So why is the Law Society getting it so wrong? After all it is spending a lot of money on the problem.

“Yes. A vast amount of money on their complaint-handling.  You have to look at how many complaints the Law Society gets and that has not changed dramatically over the past five years. You would expect greater efficiency or greater turn-around times, or greater improvement in service than we are seeing. The Bar Council is better. I think the Bar Council continually tries and reviews and improves on its processes; invariably I find that it does what it says.”

You fined the Law Society a quarter of a million pounds. Which I understand was because they had submitted a plan that was inadequate for securing improvements to its complaints handling services for 1 April 2006 to 31 March 2007. I wonder whether the figure was so high because you thought the Law Society were not taking you terribly seriously.  And thus it needed to be high. A kind of hit across the brow?

 “Well yes but I do not think it was high. I think it was reasonable.  If it was high, then it would have been a million pounds.  Because of course I can fine up to a million.”

Yes I know that. But a quarter of a million pounds is still an awfully lot of money.

“I do not think that the penalty level that I set the Law Society was unreasonable.  That may well be a view that the Law Society have, but it is not unreasonable and when you look at how much overall the Law Society budget is (over £110 million) it is very, very minor. But it is reasonable. It is about the failings of the plan and that is the only way that I can make a judgment. It was based on simply that – the plan.  Not anything else that anyone else may well want to say.”

The reality may well be that the purpose of such a high fine was to ensure that the Law Society did in fact take Manzoor seriously when discussing the new improvement plan for 1st April 2006 to 31st March 2007 and when implementing it. The Law Society has now agreed that consumers will receive a substantive response to complaints within 55 days and that 94% of people who lodged complaints will have them concluded within 12 months. Amazing what a fine can do.

I have seen your proposals to get yourself sacked, so to speak.

“Well yes. The government’s White Paper in relation to legal reforms. I have taken a totally selfless position on the legal reforms. I said to David Clementi, that if we really are going to get an effective and efficient service, then the numbers of tiers of organisation should be reduced and thus my offices, both the Legal Services Ombudsman and as Legal Services Complaints Commissioner, should cease to exist.”

A brave decision

“But perfectly proper. Not because I did not feel that the positions were important, because indeed my powers will be transferred to the new Office for Legal Complaints and Legal Services Board.  Of course that is a very difficult decision to make, for both my offices and particularly for my staff.”

But the correct decision for the future of the profession?

“Absolutely. But you must have a Legal Services Board which has real teeth, so that if you need to use them, then you can, but presumably very rarely. Some people are talking about having a weaker Legal Services Board. They are wrong. If you have a strong Legal Services Board, frontline Regulators, should have nothing to fear at all. A strong Legal Services Board is a benefit for both the consumer and the regulators.”

Zahida Manzoor has certainly shown that teeth when used properly can make all the difference in her battle with the Law Society. Her vigour and passion for her work should be a credit and an example for us all. As lawyers perhaps we have a natural reluctance when a third party wishes to investigate our work or practices, especially if it is put there by an over-bearing government. But the fact is that where complaints are made they ought to be resolved, as effectively and efficiently as possible. Ideally internally and without the need for fuss or further recourse to our professional bodies. For lawyers as much as for consumers (I still remember when they were called clients) we want prompt action on problems and complaints. It does not help the legal profession, our legal profession, where we as lawyers are pilloried in the press especially when our professional bodies (and I am delighted to exclude ILEX in this analysis – but one brush can taint all) can not get it right quickly or efficiently enough.


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I’ll Ask the Questions: Helena Kennedy QC

Helena Kennedy QC is a remarkable woman. She has been involved in almost every leading human rights case over the last thirty years and is seen by many as the saviour of the unfortunate, the lost and the politically forgotten. The nation’s Portia.

Yet rather than leave her on the outside looking in (or words to that effect) the political establishment made her “one of us” and laudably ennobled her.  An incredible journey for a “wee lass” from the tenements in Glasgow to a seat of power in Westminster.

When I meet Ms Kennedy in the lobby in the House of Lords I am somewhat surprised as she is perhaps smaller than I had expected; immaculately presented; fierce and with an accent which sometimes flickered between her origins in Glasgow and years of living “down South”.  She is now in her 57th year (a factor which far too many reporters link to her name in articles) “to a working class family; my father worked with newspapers as a printer on the Daily Record and was a trade-union official, my mother was a housewife. There were four daughters in the family and they all left school at fifteen. I was the lucky one. I went to a local school in Glasgow and at the last minute decided that I would do law at University”.

She was originally planning to read English at Glasgow University but a last minute change of heart found law the more natural calling. The reason:

“Debating! In Scotland debating is very much part of the culture.  In schools we all debated, and this was in the big working-class schools.  I can remember that when I was about eleven or twelve my teacher would explain the procedures about debating and, well they are very similar to the law. I remember him pointing at me and saying ‘we’ll have a debate and you, Helena, will argue in favour of the death penalty.’  And I said ‘oh no, I can’t do that, because I am not in favour of the death penalty,’ and he said ‘but that’s not what this is about. You have to be able to understand what the argument of the other person is, you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes, and that’s the whole point.  And you will argue for the death penalty…’and so I did. It was about learning to make an argument; to make it as cogent as possible, and to understand the logic of it. As I said, very similar to the law”.

And to that end she chose to become a lawyer and travelled down to London and the Bar.

“I remember that I was surrounded by people who had gone to public school, who were very confident, who I thought were like the people on the radio, and had posh English accents. I was an outsider.  I spoke with a South Border accent.  I was rather conscious of it, in a way very Scottish. I was not welcomed, I did not feel that I belonged, and it took quite a long time to have that sense of entitlement to be there, while everyone else seemed to be very comfortable. But you can never tell.  They can each have their own insecurities too.”

The treatment of women both in the legal profession and in society generally has always concerned Kennedy. In particular "the women who came in as clients. I started to represent prostitutes and people like that and that really sharpened up my sense of how the law did not work for whole groups of people."

In 1993 she published her first book, a look at the way British justice treated women, Eve Was Framed. She also became a fixture on television in standing up for the rights of the individual in programmes such as Blind Justice and Raw Deal. More and more of her career became dominated by the preservation of civil liberties and human rights.

“I think these are things that we can be boastful about, and the rule of law was invented in this country, with the idea that you have to hold to account the people in power, and it started off, of course, being the King, but then of course the government, Ministers, people who are employed by arms of the State, whether they are policemen, immigration officers, prison officers, and we are entitled to expect those who have power not to abuse it.”

But do you really believe that our civil liberties are at risk?

“I really believe that they are in danger; of trial by jury; of torture. In the seventeenth century our Judges decided that torture was unacceptable, and that evidence that might come from torture should not be accepted in court.  These were things that were taken up by the rest of the world and being very important principles for any state to adhere to, and we are cavalier about how important they are.  So, of course, as you probably know, I have had my battles with the Labour government about it and this is a very painful business, because I am someone who prefers to see Labour in government to anyone else, and yet at the same time my first loyalties, when it comes to these issues, has to be to the law.

It was in 1997 that the Labour government ennobled her as Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws for her work as a campaigner; a Labour Party supporter and her work in a large number of prominent cases. Amongst others these include the Brighton Bombing, the Michael Bettany espionage trial, the Guildford Four appeal and the bombing of the Israeli embassy. However in the last ten years she has moved from being one of Labour’s more high-profile supporters to one of their more high-profile critics.

"I think that when it comes to this business of law and legal principle, I think they [Labour] are getting it seriously wrong and nothing will persuade me otherwise. There were times when I have to stand up and say ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not going to vote with you.  I’m going to vote against you.’  For people who don’t care in the same way about these issues, they find it very hard to understand, and they get very angry with me."

But as a Member of the Labour Party in the Lords, have you ever considered resigning the Labour whip?

“No, but on occasions, I have been advised to consider my position. But I am standing up and saying it is not good enough. Law matters!  That is what I am saying.  That is my slogan – the Law matters.  Actually it is the mortar in a civilised society, and once you start losing respect for that, and cease to understand why it is important then I think you start making a rod for your back.”


So why do you think that this disregard for civil liberties has become so prevalent?

“I think it is partly about the nature of society where we have politicians who no longer have to work as hard about winning people to their argument.  Everything can be done so much more readily, because of the nature of communication.  You know, you do not have to have a political party to defend ideas and to argue over why things should be as they are, or why you might change things.  You actually just sit on Richard and Judy’s sofa, and tell the nation why you think crime’s a bad thing, and what ought to be done.”

But crime is of course a “bad thing”.

“I agree that crime is a bad thing; that terrorism is a terrible thing, but what you do not need to do, is, in a knee-jerk way, reject the things that have been struggled for over many centuries.  And there’s always a way which Government for once, even after modernising, become cavalier with things that are considered to be old.  You know, the thinking, ‘they’ve been around for hundreds of years…’”

But the thing is of course that governments want to show, perhaps even think that they have to show the people that they are doing something?

“They want to be seen to be acting very quickly.  They reach for legislation as an answer to problems, and often legislation is not necessary.  We have had the creation of eight hundred new criminal offences and that is about a formula, which is that the Government feel that something has to be done.  The tabloid press run campaigns on crime.  We have to be seen to be tough on crime.  We have to legislate, and what’s the best way to be seen to be doing that.  It’s to be tough on these folk who, we think, may have done it. You know, it is very easy in the circumstances, to erode the fundamentals.”

So is it all doomed?

“Look society requires the rule of law, and it requires a vibrant democracy, and both are at the moment, actually, slightly kind of quaking in their boots. We need to revive democracy, and we need to be conscious of the principles which underpin the law.  Because, I think you start unpicking the mortar…you start taking out from our foundations, the stuff that holds it all together.  And I think, you know, that there are serious consequences from doing that.”

So what can we do as lawyers to protect this system?

“One of the great things about the legal system in Britain is that you actually have an independent legal profession and guarding that independence is very important. It is about making sure that without fear or favour you are prepared to defend people with the law. Challenging government, government officials and you can do this fearlessly and you are prepared to take on, as most of our firms do, suing government, suing the Ministry of Defence. We have to have a profession that is prepared to do those things, and from that profession we get such a terrific judiciary.”

But one of the problems that the profession has is that legal aid is being diminished and lawyers it would appear are becoming less respected.

“This is why we have to keep Legal Aid available, because you want your Criminal Justice Courts to be respected and seen to be fair.  Once you start becoming, you know, making fast and loose with that, I think you end up praying a price.  And it’s all short-termism.  It’s all so daft.  Because in the end, it’s about not seeing what the consequences might be, say, ten years from now. Because it all hangs together, and that makes for our reputation around the world.”

You mention reputation, in the world of miscarriages of justices cases which was the most important for you?

“People always think it must have been the Guildford Four Appeal, because it was such a high-profile case and it was such an important case in terms of being one of those lines in the sand cases.  But I have done lots of other lesser miscarriages of justice, where I have seen real pain, and I have seen people suffer because they have lost, or almost ended up losing their liberty for life.”

That must have been incredible sad?

“Well some of the saddest cases, of course, are cases involving domestic killings, where people have killed family members and it has happened in some horrible argument, where somebody lost their life and I have done lots of big high-profile cases, but the cases often haunt you most are, you know, often not the ones that make the headlines.”

Are you haunted by many?

“Just a few years ago, I did a case involving a little girl from Bangladesh, who was fourteen, brought here by her family, and could not speak a word of English.  She had lived with her grandmother, back in Bangladesh, and she came here and was made pregnant by one of her relatives – her mother’s brother – and did not tell anybody. She was so frightened and gave birth on her own, in a toilet, and threw herself from a multi-storey block of flats. The baby miraculously survived, but ended up in care. The whole story was just desperate. The little girl, the fourteen year old, ended up on trial at the Old Bailey.  He was a wonderful judge, and gave her probation and actually gave her an absolute discharge.  And I spoke about the responsibility of the relative who made her pregnant, and obviously sexually abused her, who had disappeared.  But it was a terrible thing.”

Are we a safer society now there are fewer miscarriages?

“I think we are much more vigilant and much more conscious of miscarriages of justice. But I am concerned that, in relation to terrorism, it is always when there are highly charged cases, where emotions run high and we all do feel very strongly about terrorism, and rightly so, but it is important that we show that the justice system can deal with these challenges to our system, because that is what makes ours different from terrorists, that we do respect the rule of law. And I think juries are fantastic.”

It is perhaps not only juries who require such an accolade. Perhaps society is safe when there remain people such as Helena Kennedy who are prepared to fight for our liberties and our rights even when it sometimes puts her at odds with our own. But then again all rights require some sacrifices and Kennedy’s political affiliations may yet prove such for her.

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I’ll ask the Questions:- Lady Brenda Hale

I'll answer the questions: Lady Brenda Hale

When I was a child in the mid 1970s my mother was somewhat out of the ordinary in our community. She went to work. As such I was labelled amongst other things as a “latch key kid”. It was still even in the mid 1970s the norm for most women, well certainly in Kent to stay at home and ‘look after the family’. But things have moved on somewhat in the intervening period. There has been a period of catch-up for women in all professions. A climate of equality between the sexes, so to speak. But perhaps rather surprisingly (or not) the legal fraternity has been somewhat slow in inviting women into its ranks. It was only in 1962 that Elizabeth Lane was appointed as the first female county court judge and not until 1988 that Elizabeth Butler-Sloss became the first woman judge in the Court of Appeal. Now finally the last bastion of male hegemony has been breached: Lady Brenda Hale has become the first woman to enter that most austere of legal clubs: the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. Heady times indeed for women everywhere.

Lady Hale’s story is all the more remarkable because her background was more academia than practising barrister. So when I met her recently in the House of Lords I started by asking her why she chose such a male dominated profession (as it was then):

“My Headmistress was convinced that I had the ability to go to Oxford or Cambridge and I thought of Law, and instead of her saying ‘oh, rubbish, girl’ or ‘girls don’t do Law’ or ‘nobody in your family does Law’ she actually said ‘what a good idea, but there’s not much we can do to help you’, but she did encourage me.  And I was right.  It was the right subject.”

Lady Hale born in 1945 was brought up in North Yorkshire. Her father the headmaster of a small boys’ boarding school whilst her mother “was in that generation of women, who qualified as teachers between the two World Wars and were really quite emancipated in their whole approach to things, as were indeed their husbands, but who were obliged to give up work when they married.” 

But circumstances were unfortunately to change that situation “when my father died, when I was thirteen, she picked herself up and dusted down her teaching certificate, and became the headteacher of the local primary school.  She was quite a remarkable woman”.

Perhaps it was her mother’s motivation which gave Lady Hale the drive to embark on in fact three different careers.

“After Cambridge I went straight to Manchester University as an Assistant Lecturer, as they then were, to teach Law. Whilst I was a student I had contemplated but rejected trying for the Bar, because I had no money and no connections and so on and so forth. But one of the attractions of Manchester was that they said at the interview ‘we would like you to take the Bar exams and do a pupillage and have some practical experience alongside the academic work’ so that is what I did”

Fortune favoured her. She spent the following three years in part-time practice at the Manchester Bar and at the University lecturing. Upon the advice of her then dean of law Julian Farrand she opted to concentrate on academia. A decision she was presumably not too upset with – she was later to marry Farrand.

It was however following her return to full time academia that her judicial progression really took off.

“Yes, there was a natural progression. Neither particularly quick nor particularly slow.   Obviously, I started writing articles and textbooks and the things that Academics do. I wrote a book on Mental Health Law which caused the Regional Chairman of the Mental Health Review Tribunal (who had known me at the Bar) to suggest that I might become a member of Mental Health Review Tribunals.  So I started doing that”

So that was the first step?

“That was the first sort of traditional step.  And then, at the beginning of the 1980s, the Lord Chancellor’s Department recruited a few Academics with some practical experience to sit as Assistant Recorders. I think that they were trying to diversify the Bench, and that seemed the obvious first step.  And so I trained and sat as an Assistant Recorder.”

And the rest as they say is history. But what attracted you to sitting on the bench?

"Two things!  One is new challenges, and the other is actually keeping in touch with the world of Litigation. Because I enjoyed it when I was a Barrister.  It was a good thing to be doing it - diversification - and of course, I am very glad I did it.”

What is so unique is that you followed a distinctly untraditional path.

“Yes completely different. The academic work led me to becoming a Law Commissioner in 1984 almost the same time as I started the baby judging. I carried on doing the part-time sitting while I was a Law Commissioner doing more and more of it and of course that was very convenient for everybody. And it, no doubt, made me visible with the powers-that-be who thought that just possibly it might make me appointable to the Bench in some capacity or another, so that’s what happened.”

It was also in 1984 that she wrote the influential tome Women and the Law, the first comprehensive survey of women’s rights at work, in the family and in the State. With that in mind I enquired as to whether she thought it helped that she was a woman?

“I don’t suppose it was a hindrance…”


“I think there does come a time when any system has to look at itself and say hang on – we have lots of women lawyers and hardly any women judges, and at least open itself up to the possibility that there might be appointable women in odd places.  To the extent that I, and one or two others, exemplified the fact that there might be appointable women in odd places well, yes, I'm sure it helped, and I hope it will go on helping.”

But would you agree that the law is still a gentleman’s club?

“As you know more than half of law students are women.  Entrance to the profession is at least half and half, and sometimes more than half. But the problem is that the attrition rate, especially the attrition rate from the places where women become visible for certain types of judicial appointment, is very high. But the Law is not the most family-friendly or flexible of careers. So it is obviously easier for men to make progress than it is for women.  That is obviously not an inevitable sex difference, it is a ‘the way people run their lives’ difference.”

And the judiciary?

“Our system of judicial appointment, especially for the senior posts, relies on long experience.  They are beginning to realise that the experience could be in a number of different fields. But that is a relatively recent realisation. So any club that you join by long experience of doing something else is likely to mean that there are fewer women, because there are fewer women with the long experience of doing something else for structural reasons and that also means that they will be men of a particular generation and a particular background.”

So were you accepted as a new member into the Judiciary with open arms?

“I think one of the good things was, I genuinely was in Family Law, unlike some of the earlier women appointments, who weren't genuinely in Family Law but they were put in the Family Division, possibly because it was thought that they could do less damage there, but I was genuinely a Family lawyer. This may have enabled me to demonstrate that I could do the job.”

So are you enjoying it here in the Lords?

“It is not possible not to enjoy it. There are only twelve Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, so it is a small, pretty friendly group of people.  Everybody has been very friendly – we are all very different.  I mean, although eleven of them are men and I am a woman. The men are all very different from one another, in character and personality.  So, very individual.”

So do you find it a struggle coming to judgments?

“It’s very interesting.  It’s nothing like as much of a struggle as an Appellate Judge, as it is as a First Instance Judge.  [As a] First Instance Judge, certainly in the Family Division, you are usually doing three things.  You listen to the evidence, work out who you believe and where the truth lies, or wade through the mass of documentary evidence, deciding which is the most important and which is not so important.  Then you exercise a discretion. There may be a point of law that you also have to think about, or you may have to remind yourself what the law is. Finally, you try to express your decision in a way that does not make things worse rather than better.”

So how is it different in the Lords?

“As an Appellate Judge, you are not on your own for a start. You are either one of three, five, seven, or even nine. So you are not shouldering the whole burden by yourself and also you are simply reviewing what the poor, bloody foot-soldier did in the first instance. But you are also very conscious, as an Appellate Judge, that whatever decision you come to is going to be binding on everybody else”

I read with interest that you are proud to be called a feminist. What does that mean?

“If you are asking me whether I am a feminist, I would say of course I am a feminist. But if you are asking me what is a feminist? I would say that I believe that women are entitled – you know, as the Declaration of Human Rights puts it – to equality, in dignity and rights.  And it’s as simple as that.”

If it were only as simple as that?

“Well, of course you then have to work out what we mean by equality, and you have to work out what we mean by dignity and what we mean by rights.  These are all difficult and I have devoted a certain amount of my time and thought processes to writing and talking about these things.  But that is what I mean by a feminist.  I think I would probably add to that the recognition that there are a lot of different ways of leading one’s life, and that it is, on the whole, in the interests of the human race if women can be persuaded to have babies.”

Have you seen the world’s population?

“Not too many babies. The babies that they want to have, no more and no less. But that being the case, there are certain inevitable distinctions that have to be drawn.  Again, it is difficult to work out which are inevitable and which are not.  Which are biology and which are sociology. And just as I would say that there are many different ways of proving one’s ability to be a decent judge, there are many different ways of succeeding in the world, and that’s what I'm interested in.”

You mentioned the Declaration of Human Rights, are you in favour of the legislation?

“Yes, I'm in favour of the legislation.  I think it has made us think about certain fundamental issues, in a way that we didn’t think about them before, and that’s a good thing.”

But are there too many laws?

“I was a member of the Law Commission, whose statutory duty was to simplify and modernise the law. This included reducing the number of separate enactments by consolidation and codification of both statute and common law, two very different matters. So yes of course, I believe that, if at all possible, law should be simple, clear and accessible.  We do seem to find it very difficult to do that.  There is a great enthusiasm to take a problem and say ‘there ought to be a law about it’, when maybe a better solution might be found elsewhere than in the law for tackling that particular problem.”

Or arguably there’s a law already there…

“Yes.  That is true.  Or arguably you could try and make more coherent the law that is already there, so that it was simpler and clearer.  And that is what we tried very hard to do in the Law Commission.  I think we succeeded with the Children Act in 1989, in taking a mass of separate pieces of legislation, which were incoherent and turning them into one coherent scheme that fitted together, so that everybody could understand what it meant.”

Do you believe that there is still a passion for the law? Or is it now all about the money?

“That is a very interesting question, and of course different people enter the Law for different reasons.  Having spent eighteen years amongst undergraduates, three of them as Admissions Tutor at Manchester University Law Faculty, one was aware of a wide range of different motivations of people coming into the Law.  You had some who came in because of family pressure, which sometimes had to do with parents wanting their children to get ahead, and have a profession, and be respectable. There were certain groups within which it was seen as being a step up from whatever they had previously been involved in.   Now you could say that that was a natural thing, but it wasn’t really, it was more a status and position thing.”

So it is no longer about righting a wrong?

“Well there were some who went into it for idealistic reasons.  They wanted to right all the wrongs of the world.  And there were some who went into it for unmixed materialistic reasons.  But most people probably have a mixture of those three – status, idealism and money.  And some went into it because they were genuinely interested, which is not quite the same.”

And you?

“I went into it because I was genuinely interested.”

An idealist then?

“No I did not go into it because I had a burning sense of the injustices of the poor, or the disadvantaged. Because I am not sure I knew much about that. I certainly did not go into it for monetary reasons, because again I do not think I knew much about that.  When I went into it, my ambition was to become a high street solicitor.  Because that was all I knew about the Law, and although they were comfortably off, they were not brilliantly well off, and so I do not suppose that I was that unusual.  But on the other hand, there are now many, many more people going into the Law, and universities are very anxious to offer Law courses because so many people want to do them.”

The problem with that is that there are almost too many people going into the law. Not enough jobs and a considerable degree of debt follows.

“That is absolutely right.  There are so many people going into the profession, or wanting to go into the profession, that it will  be difficult for them all to find legal careers of the sort that they probably thought of, when they first went into it.  They won't have wasted their legal studies if they’ve made good use of them. That’s the other thing about the Law. It plugs into so many other areas of life, that you should end up, after a Law degree, much better qualified for life than you were before.”

So are you in favour of increasing the gene pool for Judges?

“For the reason that I gave earlier, I do strongly believe that we ought to have a more diverse judiciaryIf the only people who can become High Court Judges are successful silks, who practise regularly, and visibly, before other High Court Judges, well then it more or less stands to reason that there will be fewer women and fewer people from minorities, than there might otherwise be. It does not follow as night follows day that the only people qualified to do judging at a high level are the people who have been Advocates at a high level.  The Advocates may be very good judges, but they may not.”

It was in January 2004 that Baroness Hale became the first woman ever to join the ranks of that highest legal table in the country. By doing so she has brought a form of hope and emancipation to female lawyers everywhere. It is true that the appointment of a woman Law Lord is long overdue. But perhaps her wider legacy will be that recognition that senior members of the judiciary are no longer obliged to follow a single path. She has with her appointment brought a belief and an expectation that hard work, energy, diligence and common sense will finally be rewarded in the law and the judiciary. If the judiciary is to move with the times then such appointments must not be symbolic but the start of fresh ideas and real change. There are after all a considerable number of excellent legal executives just waiting for that opportunity to take their first step along the judicial ladder and perhaps eventually sit with Baroness Hale at that top table.

I’ll ask the questions  George Galloway

I’ll ask the questions George Galloway

George Galloway appears at every turn to be something of a personal and political enigma. He is a life long socialist yet he was expelled from the Labour Party. He was so desperate to get back into the House of Commons that he set up his own political party; called it Respect and won the seat of Bethnal Green & Bow at the 2005 General Election, with a swing of 26.2% from ironically, the Labour Party.  To compound it all he rarely attends or votes in Parliament. He has one of the worst attendance records amongst MPs having only attended 16% of votes. He is referred to as Saddam Hussein’s only friend in Westminster, yet seemingly is off George W Bush’s Christmas card list. Some call him a rogue and others merely “Gorgeous George” and oh yes there was that Celebrity Big Brother episode. Love him or hate him he remains one of the few real ideologists in a somewhat sanitised Parliament, so obviously I had to go and meet him, well really...

George Galloway was born in Dundee on the 16th August 1954 into a traditionally left-wing family. His father’s side of the family were Trade Union activists whilst his mother’s side were Irish at odds with Britain’s policy on Imperialism and Colonialism.

As such “I ate it [politics] up for breakfast really from the earliest age.  I was handing out leaflets on school gates on Polling Day, when I was seven or eight years old.  And by my teens, I had no intention of doing anything else with my life other than what I have done.  So I have been very lucky.” 

Lucky indeed. He left school at sixteen to become a factory worker with Michelin Tyres. In the 1987 General Election, Galloway aged 33 won the Glasgow Hillhead seat for the Labour Party,  which he held until 2003 when he was expelled from the Labour Party for his opposition to the Iraq War and,  amongst other things,  for suggesting that: "... the best thing British troops can do is to refuse to obey illegal orders." Blair and his New Labour revolution were not impressed. So what made him become so out of touch with his Party?

“My actual political position has not really moved at all. But the centre of gravity has.  The first time I saw Alistair Darling was when he was a bearded Trotskyite, pressing Trotskyite tracts on bewildered railwaymen at Waverley Station in Edinburgh. I later saw him as Transport Secretary denouncing the records of the RMT Union for their work to rule on London Underground. And that metamorphosis is only one.  I remember Stephen Byers when he was a militant; Alan Milburn when he was in the International Marxist Group. I knew John Reid very well when he was in the Communist Party of Great Britain, as were a lot of them, to the left of me. Times have changed.”

Indeed they have. But perhaps one of the differences is that they actually turn up and vote in the House and well to be honest you rarely do.

“What I have to do is find more and more ways of speaking directly to the people. There is no point in appearing as a one man Party in the House.”

What do you mean? You chose to stand for election.

“Look, in voting terms for example, you can almost always, more than ninety percent of the time only vote for the Prime Minister’s Motion; or the Leader of the Opposition’s Amendment.  There are rare occasions when you can vote for a Liberal Amendment.  I rarely want to vote either for the Prime Minister’s Motion or David Cameron’s Amendment, and even sometimes I do not want to vote for the Liberal Democrat Amendment.  There is no other means of voting in the Commons.  There is no Abstention Lobby.  So there is no point in being there, and there is no point in listening to the ’poodles’ baying according to the latest instruction from their pagers.”

So what do you do instead?

“Yesterday I did three things.   I appeared on the Politics Show on the subject of the London Regional Opt-Out.  Then I went to speak at a demonstration and then I drove to Birmingham to address a rally. I got home at two o’clock in the morning. That was a Sunday.  Most of my days are spent meeting and speaking to as many people as I can.”

Well whilst that might be good for George Galloway and Respect, can it actually be to the benefit of your constituents?

“Well my constituents are served by my office.  My office is the biggest Constituency office in the country.  It is got more staff and a better qualified staff than any other.  I have got two first-class Oxford graduates, First Class Degrees, working for me, and four others.”

Is there not somewhat contradictory? You, a working class socialist, turning to the alleged Upper classes for supporters?

“The people I meet from Oxford and Cambridge are the brightest … [people I ever meet] and [are the] most politically developed people I ever meet”

I see.

“So my constituents are served by the biggest and best Constituency Office in the country.  It is not my job personally to sit and take the details of a problem with the wheelie bins, and the high flats in Bethnal Green, but somebody has to.  And my office does.  And they do it in my name.  And the rest is just cant and hypocrisy.  The idea that the job of being a political leader is to be a social worker 24/7 is absurd.  The job of being a political leader is to be a political leader.”

Alright, you mentioned Bethnal Green, can we discuss the local elections and the thorny subject of vote rigging.

“We won 12 seats in the local elections and if the House of Lords does its job, on one of the cases very soon we will have 15, or 18 or 21, or even 24 Councillors. Because we were cheated, systematically by someone who has been rewarded now with the job of Chief Inspector of Schools. Christine Gilbert the Chief Executive of Tower Hamlets wife of a Labour Minister presided over a system of election which was at best wide open to systematic fraud.”

What do you mean?

“Well the failure to even enquire as to whether 18 out of 21 flats really did sign forms asking for their ballot papers to be redirected to a small flat somewhere else.  When taxed as to why they had not checked on this, they said it was not their job to check on whether these people really had asked for that.  But any sensible system would have said that is inherently unlikely.  We had better check on that.  Why would 18 out of 21 households redirect their ballot papers to a single address?”

It is pretty unlikely is it not?

“Well when it was pointed out to them that that single address was intimately connected to one of the candidates in the election, you would have thought that even the most nasally-challenged would have been able to smell a rat.  But they did not.  And only when Andrew Gilligan, in the Evening Standard, blew the whistle, and the other media piled in behind it, was there any appreciation shown that Tower Hamlets might be in the grip of a system of political corruption that would, to borrow a phrase from a judge, shame a banana republic.”

I understand that this is not just restricted to London.

“Take Birmingham where 6 Labour councillors were thrown out of office and prosecuted having been caught at midnight in a car-park actually filling in hundreds of ballot papers.”

So what is to blame for this?

“New Labour has become an agency for political corruption.  They have instituted changes to the Law which make political corruption much easier.  They have resisted the calls of the Independent Election Commission which they themselves set up, to make corruption more difficult, and you have to ask yourself ‘is this a coincidence, or is it an intended consequence?’  My belief is that it is an intended consequence.  And there are local rotten boroughs, of which Birmingham is one and Tower Hamlets was another where the only way Labour could cling on to power was by institutionalised political corruption.”

Tough words, but so what can be done?

“Most people know that what we are crying is right, but they do not care to help us, so most of them sit on their hands and wait and see.  Ironically, one of the last uncorrupted parts of the British Constitution is the Judiciary. The place that Left-wingers like me used to routinely denounce as an integral part of the Establishment.  But time after time, the House of Lords, the Law Lords, the Judiciary have turned out to be and, it must be because of their independence, just about the last uncorrupted part of the British State.  Everything else – Parliament, the Executive, the Security Services, the Military top brass, the commanding heights of the media, the BBC are all on-side.  Or were all on-side, for the New Labour Project.”

So have you been getting it wrong all these years by attacking the Judiciary?

“Well….maybe not.  Maybe we were right then and we are right now.  Maybe the veneer of bourgeois democracy has been stripped away and the last piece of the veneer, which is refusing to be stripped away, is the Judiciary, but maybe it will be, in time, maybe it won't.  Maybe Labour will lose power before it succumbs.  I do not know.  But on the so-called Terrorism front, on civil liberties generally, or on any idea of justice, the Judiciary have turned out to be the last defenders of what used to be the things that made Britain a kind of special place.”

So what about the government’s recent comments about the failures of the Judiciary over their implementation of the Human Rights Act?

“Well it has come to something when a Labour Government spends so much of its time pouring vitriol on something called the Human Rights Act.  Something which they themselves incorporated into British law and which they waved as a flag of their ‘New Labourness’ and now excoriate at every opportunity, both as a means of slandering the judges, and because, intrinsically, they find that the Human Rights Act impinges on their ability to discard as they see fit, as they roll across each wave of controversies, the traditional freedoms and liberties of the people in this country.”

So what you define as the individual’s human rights?

“Well I think the main problem in this country has been that we have no Constitution. We have no Bill of Rights. We have no clear set of rights and obligations to the society.  We always argued that ‘it would be alright on the night’ that traditional British pragmatism would be a better way of securing freedom than these foreign ideas of Constitutions and Bills of Rights.

Most would have said that it has

“Well it may have for a time but it does not now”

Arguably it has been one of Britain’s strengths that it does not have such a constitution to tie it. That good will win out through the midst.

“For a time, but that depended on Parliament being a Parliament worthy of the name. We no longer have a Parliament worthy of the name, as I have just been saying and, consequently, the Executive can order the Parliament what to do, including orders to discard the very things that made Britain Britain.”

What do you mean?

“My father is dead now, but if he had lived to see the day when a Labour Government would preside over a system whereby people could be detained, first in Belmarsh, now at home under house arrest, without charge, without trial, without limit of time, without sight of that of which they were accused, without the ability to choose their own legal counsel. He would simply not have believed it.  Because for people of his age these were things that happened in other people’s countries not ours.  The absence of these things was one of the emblems of Britishness, but we slipped so quietly into that good night.  Only the judges tried to cry ‘freedom’ about it and all that happened was that the Parliament then said ‘well, if it is illegal to discriminate against foreign residents in Britain in this way, we’ll change the Law.  We will change it to apply to every person, whether British or not’, and they got away with it.  They got re-elected, and thus an absolute corner-stone of liberty was abandoned.” 

So I take it you were not in favour of the government’s proposal earlier this year for terrorist suspects to be imprisoned for up to 90 days then?

“Now these young men were freed from what will now become known as Forestgate after I think nine days but they had to appear once at least in court in that period.  If Labour had got its way these young men would have disappeared into the maw of the State for three whole months.  And yet we see that the basis for their arrest was entirely false, utterly fatuous, and with very grave consequences for confidence in the Law, in the Police and the Security Services, in the Government and the State, to boot.  We were in the past able to depend upon a Parliament worthy of the name.  We no longer have it.”

You state “a Parliament worthy of the name”. Presumably you did not think Thatcher’s Conservatives between 1979 to 1987 was worthy of it’s the name?  Is it just the fact that you feel so let down?

“No I did not think it was worthy of the name in a sense. I probably didn’t. You are right. At the time. But in retrospect I can see that it was…”

Well what was the difference?

“Well when I came into Parliament in 1987, there were upwards of a hundred people that you would describe as men and women of independent minds in all parties.  Who would have, and did stand up for liberty. Stand up for justice, stand up for the right thing, irrespective of what the Whips said. Irrespective of what the Party leadership said.  Now I look at the green benches, and I see a shiver running along, looking for a spine to run up.”

Alright let us talk about America. In May 2005 a U.S. Senate committee accused Galloway along with former French minister Charles Pasqua of receiving the right to buy oil under the UN's oil-for-food scheme. Galloway attended the Senate to argue his innocence and also took the opportunity to denounce the invasion of Iraq as having been based on "a pack of lies".

“It was my finest hour. I do not think even my worst enemies would deny that”

Last I heard the Senate was going to commence proceedings against you.

“Coleman [the Chair of the Committee] accused me of perjury. I said ‘put up or shut up’. Well they appear to have shut up. It has been nine months since Mr. Coleman opined and not a single letter or phone call so it was a pantomime. So he started that day, a year ago as a Presidential hopeful. But he did not end that day in quite such a good position”.

Your thoughts on Guantanamo Bay?

“You have to understand how the rest of the world views this scar on the face of civilised opinion that is represented by this Guantanamo festering sore, which was the United States’ biggest problem in the world. It is their recourse to such coarse and vulgar and implicitly threatening language that is the main reason why anti-Americanism is a wave which is sweeping the entire world and if they can not see that, then they are blind as well as stupid.  But I am afraid they are blind, and stupid and we have a world in which we have a single super-power, which is a giant with the mind of a child.  And a spoiled brat child at that.”

I am thinking about the three recent suicides there and the fact that I understand you recently met Moazzam Begg who spent approximately two years in Guantanamo.

“Yes I met Moazzam Begg recently.  It was amazing to be there, holding, shaking hands with a young man who, himself, had regularly contemplated suicide because he knew that he was in this legal black hole and he imagined that he would be there forever.  He had no anticipation that he would ever be released.  And, I know Cuba very well.  I know what it is like.  I can imagine what it is like to be in a cage in the tropics, where psychological, and other forms of torture, are regularly visited upon an inmate.  It is a surprise that more of them have not committed suicide.”

So is there a place for torture when dealing with terrorists?

“No. Torture is an absolute Rubicon, and as a moral question, it absolutely defines the difference between a civilised society and a barbaric one.  Absolutely defines it. Whatever information, extracted under torture, most of the information extracted under torture will be false.  Because people will say anything under torture.  But even insofar as any accurate information was extracted under torture, the seepage into the soul, of the society responsible for that torture, would be more damaging than anything averted by the extraction of that information.  I think it is an absolute moral Rubicon.  And the United States has crossed it.”

Does anyone really care?

“Yes. There are those of us who do care.  Or, we will be complicit in that good night.  And I don’t care if I was the last man saying this, I would still say it.  But I am very far from the last man saying it.  I think the majority of British people, if they could be reached, in a proper way for such a discussion, would agree with me.”

And that brings us to Big Brother. Was that the right thing to do?

“Definitely.  I had three goals.  I attained them all.  The three goals were to raise a substantial amount of money for charity, in my case, a Palestinian charity feeding desperately poor and hungry people in Gaza, which I achieved.  We doubled the amount of charity income. To use my fee to employ two new members of staff in my constituency office, which I have done and to take the existence of my politics, my Party’s existence, to a wider public.”

Yes, but …

“Now I can assure you that, on that latter point that has been done.  Everybody in the country now knows me.  Everyone in the country, more or less, has heard the name Respect.  For a small Party two years old, with no money, that’s a very difficult thing to do without thinking and acting outside the box.  And that is what we did.”

Yes and I accept that a lot of people now know your name, but for the right reasons?

“Now, I am not saying that being known is the same as being supported.  I am not even saying that the people who run down the road after me to get their picture taken with me, which happens on every street, in every town and city in the country, I promise you that. I am not saying that those people, who want their picture taken with me, necessarily agree with me, or even like me.   But it is not a bad start.  It means that the next time they see I am on Question Time; they are more likely to watch it.  That is one of the reasons why the Question Time audience last time was three million, instead of the two million it had been the week before.”

Alright I understand that more people know you now, but really the purring thing was not really your finest moment, now was it?

“Well, actually, I do not quite get that. I knew that the leotard would be a grotesque image that would haunt me. It was a compulsory task.  The punishment for not doing it would have been the starvation of my housemates and myself.  It was a game of charades.  And I played it.  And to this day I do not get why doing quite a passable impression of a cat should be so extraordinary.”

In many ways George Galloway appears something of a contradiction. One moment he is puffing robustly at his cigar, the next the smoke is pierced by the anthem of the Soviet Union ‘the East is Red’ playing on his mobile. We even had the highlight of a short adjournment during the interview to watch a clip from London Tonight which he had filmed earlier that day. Whether he is right in everything he says is up for debate. On occasions he speaks with vitriol and perhaps even regret and disappointment. Some think he is a fool, others a rogue and some even an enemy of the state. But can that really be true? Maybe he is a dying breed. A passionate politician who looks outside the box and uses bright emotive language and, oh yes a degree of rhetoric to make his point. Or maybe he just calls it as he sees it. Whether we agree with him or not and that is a matter for you, we can not help but listen. After all I just ask the questions.