Guest blog: An invisible Mandela – reflecting on Sir Henry Brooke

1 March 2018

Mark Cunningham QC

Mark Cunningham QC, Alliance for Lawyers at Risk

Henry Brooke, who died on 31 January 2018, was a distinguished lawyer and a legendary and committed campaigner for justice.  In particular he was passionate in his determination to improve access to justice, to help to protect human rights defenders across the world, and to tackle racial prejudice in the law.

Outwardly Henry's career might be thought to have been that of a conventional and traditional establishment figure: prep school, Marlborough, the Royal Engineers, Balliol, the Bar, the High Court Bench (with the Knighthood that went with it) and the Court of Appeal (and membership of the Privy Council), rising to Vice-President of the Civil Division of the Court of Appeal.  He was indeed a very distinguished judge; intellectually gifted, very well organised and, famously, a tireless advocate for the introduction of IT in the Court system. Legal Technology News described Lord Justice Brooke as "one of the most computer literate judges on the bench of any court on either side of the Atlantic."

The essential counterpoint to Henry's conventional distinction as a lawyer and a judge was the distinguishing humanity and compassion that he brought to both of these roles.  In his valedictory address on Henry's retirement from the Bench in 2006, the Lord Chief Justice (Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers) spoke of his,

            "… humanity and his care for his fellow men and women"

and the President of the Family Division (Sir Mark Potter) referred to his

            "fundamental decency and willingness to help not only his colleagues and also his fellow man."

The immediate and lasting impression of Henry's "fundamental decency" is apparent from the many tributes that have been made to him since his death, and will resonate with all who were lucky enough to have met and worked with him.

The list of causes and campaigning organisations with which Henry was actively engaged is extraordinarily long and diverse.  As a Silk he chaired the Bar's Race Relations Committee, and as a judge he chaired the Ethnic Minorities Advisory Committee for the Judicial Studies Board.  He was one of the architects of the BAILLI website, opening up primary legal resources not just for lawyers, but to ordinary citizens as well.  He was rightly proud of his 1993 Kapila Lecture which considered the ways in which cultural prejudices, and racism, might be tackled in Court.

Henry was, patron, or president, or trustee of many charities and campaigning organisations in the legal field.  These included the Public Law Project, the Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund, Law for Life, the Harrow Law Centre, Justice, the Slynn Foundation (of which he was Emirtus President), the Bingham Centre, and Zacchaeus 2000.  He also took a particular interest in the Republic of Albania, resulting him in becoming, rather unusually, a Knight of the Order of Skanderberg.

One organisation with which Henry was long and deeply involved is Peace Brigades International or "PBI".  The UK's branch of PBI plays a significant role in PBI's international network for the protection of Human Rights Defenders ("HRDs") by increasing solidarity and support for HRDs and the issues they work on, campaigning for policies that offer better protection for HRDs, and responding to urgent situations.  PBI's unique function is the protective accompaniment of HRDs on the ground.  Currently PBI helps to protect around 200 lawyers in Columbia, Guatemala, Mexico and Nepal.

Henry was patron of PBI UK for over 10 years.  He was emphatically committed to making lawyers in the UK more aware of the challenges and dangers faced by their fellow lawyers in jurisdictions where the rule of law is weak, impunity is commonplace, and fundamental rights are ignored.  Tellingly, in an article for The Guardian, he identified as his "Legal Hero", not some distinguished judge or brilliant academic, but Dr Alirio Uribe Munoz.  Henry's heartfelt description of Dr Munoz tells us much about what concerned and motivated Henry himself;

            "I met the Colombian human rights lawyer Dr Alirio Uribe Munoz at my home last week.  He can truly be described as selfless.  He fights for the oppressed, for justice and the rule of law in a country where such work makes you dangerous enemies.  His career has been dedicated to human rights: seeking justice for the victims of human rights violations; defending the rights of marginalised communities against powerful interests; opposing impunity."

In 2010 Henry became founding President of the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk.  The purpose of the Alliance was and remains to provide support and practical assistance so as to enhance the safety and capacity of lawyers and HRDs who are under threat.  The Alliance is a unique, 100 strong, group of distinguished lawyers, drawn from the legal professions, the judiciary and legal academia, and was relaunched in 2017.  Henry retired as President in 2016, and at a reception to mark his contribution to Human Rights Defenders and the Rule of Law, he was presented with an "Invisible Mandela" award to recognise his work for PBI and the Alliance.  "Invisible Mandelas" are bestowed on those whose human rights work goes unseen and unrecognised, but who are distinguished for the courage recognised by Mandela in what he said was the line, from Julius Caesar, that most inspired him:

            "Cowards die many times before their deaths.  The valiant never taste death but once."

Henry Brooke was truly valiant in his inspiring decency and desire to help others.  He is much missed.

Mark Cunningham QC, Maitland Chambers, Member of the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk. Watch the Alliance for Lawyers at Risk's film 'Invisible Mandelas' here and visit the PBI UK website here.