Guantanamo Bay lawyer uses stories she’s heard at work to write fiction
- Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Images
Well known human rights lawyer from Stoke Newington, Louise Christian, who helped free two British men wrongfully imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay has made use of a client’s story to branch out into literature.
Louise Christian says the 25 years she has spent covering immigration, deaths in custody and human rights cases has always been about helping others.
“One of the things a career like mine does is it makes you interested in other people’s lives and people who have problems whose lives are very different from your own,” she said.
“Law itself is very dry and boring, of course, but the stories that people have who are hoping the law can do something for them are anything but.”
The 61-year old, who lives in Stoke Newington, is thrilled her short story, Tunde, was published in the 10th Anniversary Mechanics Institute Review last week.
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The publication is from Birkbeck where she has been studying a part-time MA in creative writing.
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Tunde is based on the true story of a young refugee she represented who had escaped death in his native Congo only to be faced with an immigration tribunal in the UK where his evidence was not believed.
“He was taken by rebels who were going to recruit him as a child soldier but he failed the test so they take him to a camp where they were killing people. One of the soldiers befriends him and helps him escape,” said Louise.
“It’s something I always remember. He was in the most awful place where he was held prisoner and was about to be killed. That one of the guards could have humanity struck me as such a resonant story.”
Louise has covered many high-profile cases like that of Wayne Douglas, whose death in police custody in 1995 sparked riots in Brixton.
But the high point of her career was securing the release of four Guantanamo Bay detainees after a three-year battle, a case the British courts described as a “legal black hole”.
Louise says: “It was a long struggle but it was one of the best moments of my life when they came back.
“When you’ve been in a long legal battle and really do something for someone, it’s always good, whether it’s securing them a sum of money or the right to stay in the country – but to get them out of the world’s most notorious prison is particularly special.
“They were devastated, they were subjected to torture, nothing will make that right again now. One shouldn’t be too jubilant about it because people were subjected to things they should not have had to put up with at all. It was horrific and we have got a British resident, Shaker Aamer, who’s still there.”
One of Louise’s clients included the Osman family, whose 15-year-old son, Ahmet, a pupil of Homerton House School, was wounded and his father, Ali, killed by an obsessive former teacher in 1988.
“The teacher had been transferred to another school but he went into the educational offices and threatened another Hungerford, but the police failed to do anything about it.
‘‘It was a very horrible story,” said Louise.
The British courts said the police could never be sued for negligence but Louise took the case to the European Court of Human Rights which declared otherwise and the family was awarded compensation.
The case is still quoted now and is the leading case in defining the article two “right to life” duty in the Human Rights Act.
Having her story selected for the book among work from established authors has given Louise the confidence to persevere with her writing.
A patron of Hackney Community Law Centre and co-founder of law practice Christian Khan, she is now writing a novel about a Hackney law firm and how people are affected by the law – for better or for worse.
“At a time when Legal Aid is under attack from the government, I want to try to show how access to justice is essential to our democracy,” she said.
Though she found working with asylum seekers rewarding, she has not acted for clients for over a decade.
“One of the consequences of the Legal Aid cuts is that people can’t afford to do that work any more,’’ she said.
“Asylum seekers have trouble finding lawyers because they are so badly paid. I was running my law practice in central London and I had to make money to pay people’s wages.
“I love doing that work though. If you manage to get someone’s peace of mind and security, it’s usually worth more than any sum of money.”