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Martyn Day shines light on using law for social change

Martyn Day

Martyn Day, head of international claims at Leigh Day and Co, spoke at the Law Centre's inaugural social justice lecture.

At the lecture, held on 27 September, at Crumlin Road Goal, Martyn Day gave his insights and experience of using law to achieve social change.

Martyn discussed some of his high profile cases, including his recent claim on behalf of Kenyans against the British government’s actions during the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s; claims against Shell for oil spills on behalf of 15,000 Nigerians; against Trafigura on behalf of 30,000 Ivorians following the dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast; and court action on behalf of Baha Mousa, an Iraqi tortured and murdered by British soldiers.

He said 'using the law to hold institutions to account for their actions is an important part of any democracy. The law is one way of offering individuals who lack power and resources redress and a voice to have grievances heard. I am delighted to be able to share my experiences and those of my colleagues during my speech in Belfast.'

Les Allamby, Director of Law Centre (NI) added: 'Martyn’s experience of litigating to protect the most vulnerable communities and people is a lesson in how effective the law can be as a tool for achieving lasting social justice. The work of his firm has shone a light in places kept hidden by multinational corporations and governments – such work takes courage, dedication and great legal skill. It is an important part of the checks and balances against the misuse of economic and political power.'

Martyn praised the UK legal system, which allows for robust, client-centred, extra-territorial class action, and a generally liberal minded judiciary willing to take on government. While his work now largely relies on ‘no win no fees’, a practice allowed in Britain but not in Northern Ireland, he commented that he had learnt the tools of his trade through legal aid cases, an option now almost closed for today’s lawyers.

Introducing the lecture, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan evoked recent local judicial decisions which reflect social change, and expressed concerns at efforts both in the UK and in Ireland to limit the scope of judicial reviews.  He argued the need to safeguard the important role of the courts in holding the Executive to account when it fails to protect individual rights, while not hindering politicians from making decisions that are properly theirs. 

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