Gareth Peirce

Gareth Peirce (born Jean Webb, March 1940) is a British solicitor and human rights activist. She has worked on a number of high-profile cases involving allegations of human rights injustices. Her work with Gerry Conlon and the Guildford Four – wrongly convicted of bombings carried out by the Provisional Irish Republican Army – was chronicled in the film In the Name of the Father (1993), in which she was portrayed by Emma Thompson.[1][2]

Gareth Peirce
Jean Margaret Webb

March 1940 (1940-03) (age 81)
Cheltenham, England
Other namesGareth Peirce
Alma materUniversity of Oxford and London School of Economics
Spouse(s)Chamberlain Peirce
ChildrenNicholas Peirce
Zachary Peirce

Early lifeEdit

Peirce was born in March 1940 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, the daughter of Margaret (née Twidell) and John Le Plastrier Webb. She changed her name from Jean to "Gareth" during her formative years, but never divulged to anyone the reason for doing so.[2] Her parents ran Bentham Grammar School in North Yorkshire, which she attended until she took her O-levels.[3][4] She was subsequently educated at the Cheltenham Ladies' College, the University of Oxford and the London School of Economics.[1][5][6][7]


In the 1960s, she worked as a journalist in the United States, following the campaign of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.[8] Married, she returned to Britain in 1970 with her husband and elder son and undertook her postgraduate law degree at the London School of Economics. Her younger son was born in London after her permanent return to England.[6]

In 1974, she joined the law firm of solicitor Benedict Birnberg[9] as a trainee,[5] being admitted to the Roll of Solicitors on 15 December 1978. Following Birnberg's retirement in 1999,[10] she continued to work as a senior partner of Birnberg Peirce and Partners.[6]

In the mid-1970s, she supported specific campaigns for legal reforms of police procedures that permitted the prosecution and conviction of persons based solely on identification evidence. Individual cases then very much in the news led to the establishment of Justice Against the Identification Laws (JAIL), an organisation which Gareth Peirce supports.[11]

During her career she represented Judith Ward, who had been wrongfully convicted in 1974 of several IRA-related bombings, the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, several mineworkers after the Battle of Orgreave, the family of Jean Charles de Menezes and Moazzam Begg, a man held in extrajudicial detention by the American government.[5]

Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, appointed Peirce as his solicitor in Swedish Judicial Authority v Julian Assange.[12]

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.[13]

Recognition and receptionEdit

Peirce's role in the defence of the Guildford Four was dramatised in the 1993 film, In the Name of the Father, with Peirce portrayed by Emma Thompson.[5] 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".

She was appointed CBE in 1999 for services to justice, but later wrote to Downing Street asking for it to be withdrawn and tendering an apology for any misunderstanding.[7]

Sir Ludovic Kennedy, a campaigner against miscarriages of justice, dedicated a book to Peirce, calling her "the doyenne of British defence lawyers" who "refuses to be defeated in any case no matter how unfavourable it looks".[7] Benedict Birnberg, who first employed her as a solicitor, believes she has "transformed the criminal justice scene in this country almost single-handedly".[14]

Peirce was one of the initial eight individuals inducted in March 2007 into Justice Denied magazine's Hall of Honor for her lifetime achievement in aiding the wrongly convicted.[15]

In 1999, she was awarded an honorary doctorate by NUI Galway.

In 2015 she was awarded the Presidential Distinguished Service Award by Michael D. Higgins, the President of Ireland.[16]

Personal lifeEdit

Peirce has been described as a very private person who shuns the limelight and refuses media interviews.[5][7][14] She lives in Kentish Town, North London, with her husband, Mellen Chamberlain "Bill" Peirce,[17] a writer and photographer, son of American painter Waldo Peirce.[6][18] They have two sons.


As authorEdit

  • Dispatches from the Dark Side: On Torture and the Death of Justice. London: Verso. 2010. ISBN 978-1-844-67619-4.

As contributorEdit


  1. ^ a b "London's Most Influential People 2008: Law". London Evening Standard. London. 8 October 2008. Archived from the original on 5 November 2010. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b Hostettler, John (2013). Twenty Famous Lawyers. Hook: Waterside Press. p. 171. ISBN 978-1-904-38098-6.
  3. ^ "Ex-pupils enjoy school reunion". Lancaster Guardian. Lancaster. 20 September 2017. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  4. ^ Seed, Linda (December 2017). "Reunion Of Bentham Grammar School Pupils" (PDF). The Betham News. p. 15. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e Walker, Andrew (10 March 2004). "Profile: Gareth Peirce". BBC News. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d "Gareth Peirce". The Times. London. 21 April 2008. Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  7. ^ a b c d Alderson, Andrew; Goswami, Nina (5 August 2005). "When Sir Ian heard who the lawyer was, it is likely he let out a long, hard sigh". The Sunday Telegraph. London. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
  8. ^ Jeffries, Stuart (12 October 2010). "Gareth Peirce: Why I still fight for human rights". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  9. ^ Bowcott, Owen (14 January 2005). "The Guardian profile: Gareth Peirce". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  10. ^ Tsang, Linda (25 February 1999). "Law: Farewell to a non-fat cat". The Independent. London. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  11. ^ Walker, Martin; Brittain, Bernadette (1978). Identification Evidence: Practices and Malpractices – A Report by JAIL. London: Blackrose Press. ISBN 978-0-950-67340-0.
  12. ^ Hosenball, Mark (24 June 2011). "WikiLeaks' Assange builds new, less-confrontational legal team". Reuters. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  13. ^ Blackstock, Colin (1 April 2004). "Muslims face 'dark age of injustice'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  14. ^ a b "Gareth Peirce: Tough case". The Independent. London. 4 August 2002. Archived from the original on 4 June 2011. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  15. ^ Nicholls, Serena (Winter 2007). "Gareth Peirce – A One of a Kind Lawyer" (PDF). Justice Denied (36). Portland: Justice Institute. p. 21. ISSN 1937-2388.
  16. ^ "Irish Abroad recognised at Presidential Distinguished Service Awards ceremony". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Dublin. 3 December 2015. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  17. ^ "Biography". Chamberlain Peirce. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  18. ^ "The Three Little Peirces". Life. New York City. 12 November 1945. p. 82.

External linksEdit