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John Vander Luit

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Zac Attack: It's Goldsmith versus Khan and it's getting nasty

Zac Attack: It's Goldsmith versus Khan and it's getting nasty


A politician has once again brushed over the principles of the rule of law, but the Zac Attack goes further than harming just Khan, writes John van der Luit-Drummond

Are you a lawyer who has defended criminals, given human rights advice, and has aspirations of a career in politics? Well, don't bother, says Zac Goldsmith MP, the public doesn't need your sort in elected office.

This week, the Conservative party's candidate for London mayor launched a blistering attack on his opponent, Sadiq Khan MP. Among the former shadow justice secretary's alleged crimes were a history of defending 'extremists' while a practising human rights lawyer and his campaign against the US extradition of Babar Ahmad, a constituent of the Labour politician who has since been convicted of terrorism-related offences.

Khan has never hidden his past as a human rights lawyer. The MP for Tooting told the Jewish News earlier this year:?'Unfortunately, I had to speak on behalf of some unsavoury individuals. Some of their views made me feel deeply uncomfortable, but it was my job. Even the worst people deserve a legal defence.'

However, speaking at the Institute of Directors in Pall Mall as part of City AM's mayoral debate, Goldsmith argued that his rival wasn't fit to become the capital's next mayor because he had once coached people in 'how to sue the police'. The allegation again relates to Khan's pre-political career, and his authorship of a guide on how to use the Human Rights Act to take legal action against incidences of racism.

In a chapter entitled 'Actions Against The Police' from the little-known guide, Challenging Racism: Using the Human Rights Act, Khan is said to have advised potential claimants to accuse police officers of behaving in a 'high-handed' manner, to 'think laterally in looking for human rights issues', and to ask unions to 'consider paying the legal costs of bringing a case'. Look at that, a legal expert providing guidance on an important piece of legislation and analysis on how to use it. Anyone see a crime here?

Challenging Racism also includes chapters from authors such as Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC, founder of Bindmans; Barbara Cohen, past head of legal policy at the Commission for Racial Equality for Great Britain; Razia Karim, once a senior lawyer at the Equality and Human Rights Commission; and is edited by Barry Clarke, an employment and immigration judge and a former partner at Russell Jones & Walker. What a hotbed of anti-establishmentarianism.

It is easy to dismiss this latest wars of words between the mayoral candidates as just modern-day politics, where the best dog-whistle issue wins. Yet the snarking over who a lawyer is entitled to represent, and what advice they may give in a professional context, continues in the Tories' ongoing ugly attacks against human rights practitioners. Some within the party must not believe in representation for all. Moreover, those that provide legal counsel must be no better than terrorist sympathisers or enablers of fraud. It is almost as if the presumption of innocence and a right to compensation are but myths.

It would be interesting to know if Goldsmith believes that all lawyers should be precluded from political life. After all, what has Khan done that practically every other practitioner, regardless of specialism, has not? Even corporate lawyers have been known to give advice and represent people of questionable motives and ethics. There is this thing called the Panama Papers. Perhaps the MP for Richmond should download a copy.

John van der Luit-Drummond is deputy editor for Solicitors Journal @JvdLD