Who? Phil Shiner, 57, principal of Birmingham firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) – and the victim, along with his family and staff, of death threats following his firm’s attempts to prosecute British soldiers for alleged war crimes in Iraq.
Why is he in the news? The level of intimidation faced by PIL, Shiner and his family has risen over the last month since cases relating to the alleged mistreatment of Iraqi detainees between 2003 and 2008 were referred to the International Criminal Court in mid-May. The government has rejected the claim British armed forces were responsible for systematic abuse.
Shiner says the threats have ranged from shouted abuse on the telephone to a picture showing him with a rope around his neck and the caption ‘Anti-British scumbag socialist lawyer’.
Law Society president Nicholas Fluck, in a letter to justice secretary Chris Grayling and the chief constable of West Midlands police, said: ‘Every citizen in this country enjoys the protection of the rule of law, [a right that depends] on lawyers presenting their clients’ cases without fear or favour, no matter how unpopular some might consider those clients or cases. We are all poorer and less free if the lawyers representing such cases are threatened.’
Shiner, who also represents the families of British soldiers who died in active service, blames the ministries of Justice and Defence for briefing against his firm. Both ministries deny the charge, a spokesperson for the latter saying: ‘It is only right that the department robustly defends the reputation of the armed forces.’
Why become a lawyer? ‘To use my Christian and socialist values to confront those who abuse their power.’
Career high: ‘Winning two judgments in July 2011 that extended the European Convention on Human Rights to times of war.’
Career low: ‘The government’s use of austerity to deprive the vulnerable of essential services.’