British Lawyers Urge Gov't To Call For Gaza Ceasefire

(October 27, 2023, 6:40 PM BST) -- More than 250 legal professionals and academics have called on the U.K. government to "fulfill its international legal obligations" to de-escalate the conflict between Israel and Hamas, as law firms weigh how to handle challenges arising from the latest war in the Middle East.

A group of lawyers, legal academics and former judges put their names to a letter to the government Thursday, urging it to "exert its influence" to secure a ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank. The letter is addressed to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, foreign secretary James Cleverly and Grant Shapps, the defense secretary.

The 10-page letter also called for the government to take other measures, including ensuring the "urgent and adequate" provision of food, fuel and medicine to Gaza, as well as the urgent return of Israeli hostages.

The letter urged the government to ban the export of weapons from the U.K. to Israel, given "the clear risk that they might be used to commit serious violations of international humanitarian law."

The group said in the letter that Hamas' attacks against Israeli civilians constitute serious violations of international law, but they don't justify retaliations that also break the law.

"The U.K. is duty-bound to 'respect and ensure respect' for international humanitarian law as set out in the four Geneva Conventions in all circumstances," the letter says. "That means that the U.K. must not itself violate international humanitarian law, as set out therein and that it must neither encourage, nor aid or assist its violation by others."

Signatories to the letter included eminent barristers such as Michael Mansfield KC and Andrew Hall KC. Geoffrey Bindman KC — the founding partner of Bindmans LLP — also added his name. Partners from different law firms, including McDermott Will & Emery LLP and Leigh Day, joined the group.

In the academic world, 15 professors, two emeritus professors and 15 other legal academics signed the letter.

"We are moved to intervene because, in a region already accustomed to great suffering, the death and other harm visited on individuals, families and whole communities in the last 19 days has been truly terrible," the letter said.

News of the letter came just as legal businesses have been grappling with how to respond to challenges arising from the latest conflict in the Middle East, which stemmed from Hamas' attacks on military bases and civilians in Israel on Oct. 7.

For example, Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP rescinded job offers to three law students who hold leadership positions at organizations affiliated with Harvard University and Columbia University that signed on to a letter calling Israel responsible for the Hamas killings.

A week earlier, Winston & Strawn LLP confirmed that it had withdrawn a job offer to Ryna Workman, a former summer associate and ex-New York University School of Law Student Bar Association president, whom the firm claimed distributed "inflammatory comments" about the attack on Israel.

Universities in Britain have also been caught up in controversies over the conflict in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Garden Court Chambers in London hasn't taken any public action against Franck Magennis, a barrister at the set, after he wrote the words "victory to the intifada" on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, on Oct. 7. A spokesperson said Friday that the chambers does not comment on complaints relating to individual barristers.

A spokesperson for the Bar Standards Board declined to comment on whether the regulator will take action against Magennis.

--Additional reporting by Marialuisa Taddia. Editing by Joe Millis.

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