The Mangrove 9 and the Radical Lawyering Tradition

Updated: Dec 1, 2020

This article originally appeared in Verso Books: https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/4920-the-mangrove-9-and-the-radical-lawyering-tradition


From the trial of the Mangove 9 to this summer's BLM protests, Ife Thompson outlines how the role of radical Black lawyers has been not just essential in the struggle for justice but also in transforming the UK legal system.


For the Black community in the UK the creation of sites of Black resistance was vital to collective group survival. One such space that harnessed and embodied this need was the West-Indian Mangrove restaurant on All Saints Road in Notting Hill. From its launch in 1968, it was because of what this space meant to the community, and the safety that it created for Black people- that it was targeted by the Metropolitan police. This systematic targeting led to the court case that became know as the Mangrove 9.


The case was recently brought to life in Steve McQueen’s Small Axe films, shown on BBC. McQueen said that by working on this project to showcase the Black British Caribbean experience, he was speaking truth to power and telling stories that will otherwise go untold in the official histories.


In the UK we have seen the use of the courts as a space to defend and further the cause of Black liberation, particularly since the mid-70s. In the 70s the Black liberation cause could no longer be ignored, groups such as Fasimbas and Black Freedom and Unity party galvanised media attention and forced people in Britain to see the plight of Black oppression in Britain. Many of this struggle are remembered by the historic court cases where Black liberation itself was in the dock.


The Mangrove was a Black-owned restaurant located in Notting Hill, founded by Frank Crichlow from Trinidad. It was a safe space for the Black community to break bread together, fight against racism and enjoy life. It attracted the likes of C.L.R James, Jimi Hendrix, Vanessa Redgrave, Sammy Davies Jnr, Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye and many more. The atmosphere described by many Black people who frequented the restaurant was one of Black joy, culture and strength. One such account that sums up this joy is that of Black activist Winston Trew, who was part of the Oval 4. He writes a beautiful summary of what the Mangrove restaurant meant to him in his book Black For A Cause -


‘on Saturday afternoons I would go to the Mangrove restaurant where there were Black people everywhere, Black people dressed in Panther styled clothes or in African dashikis. The Mangrove was a meeting place for Black people, a home away from home - the Caribbean in England. It dawned on me that taking up black power meant more than fighting against racism discrimination in jobs, education, housing equally as important was the fight to rebuild your sense of blackness and self-hood’.


However, this view of the Mangrove was not a unified one and the restaurant was constantly targeted and harassed by the police. Frank Critchlow makes it clear that this targeting was because 'the presence of groups of Black people on the streets was not a palatable sight for Notting Hill police. In the first year the police raided my restaurant six times and six times they found nothing'. One officer in particular, PC Frank Pulley, ensured that the Mangrove was constantly targeted through police raids. The restaurant was raided 12 times between January 1969 and July 1970.


The Black community were frustrated by the racist treatment from the police of the Mangrove and took a stand. A protest was organised on 9 August, 1970 by Black Activists from The Action Committee for the Defence of the Mangrove, the British Black Panthers, the Black Improvement Organisation, and the restaurant owner, Crichlow. The protesters gathered and marched toward the local police station to repel the normalised culture of Police racism and bullying. The 150 activists were met by a force of 200 policemen, with an additional 500 officers on standby. Although the march was peaceful, the police reacted with forceful attacks on the protesters.


At the demonstration, there was a clash between police and protesters that resulted in the arrest and subsequent charge of nine of the protesters, the Mangrove 9. The trial of these group lasted fifty-five days and highlighted ‘the oppressive treatment and policing of Black people in Britain’[1].


In December 1971 the jury believed the defendants over the police. All nine were acquitted of the principal charge of incitement to riot, while five of the nine, including Darcus Howe and Frank Crichlow, were acquitted of all other charges. It was also a moment where new precedent was set as it was the first time the establishment (in the summing up of the sitting Judge) admitted that there was racial hatred from the police towards the defendants. This was seen by the Black community as a call for action to defend themselves aginst such abuse.


Lawyers became a key bridge in making this a reality. The white radical lawyers during this case and others, Micheal Mansfield QC and Ian Macdonald QC, were vital in ensuring such trials were run in a manner that shed light to the injustices the Black community was facing while living in Britain. At the same time, adopting a similar approach taken in the US Darcus Howe and Althea Jones-Lecointe defended themselves in order to expose the political nature of the trial and the excessive over-policing of the Black community in Notting Hill, and elsewhere. This was a way for them to highlight to the court directly the injustices faced by Black people.


Howe and Jones-Lecointe, informed by the precedent set out by American Black Panthers reading of the 14th amendment of the American Constitution, demanded an all-Black jury. Howe appealed to ancient rights enshrined in Magna Carta as the legal basis of his call to be tried by a Black jury. They further moved the trial to another level by politically vetting potential jurors, asking them what they understood by terms "Black power" and which newspapers they read. Eventually, the Old Bailey Judge intervened and promptly dismissed these legal arguments from the defence. Nonetheless, in the meantime they had dismissed a total of 63 jurors, each defendant used their right to dismiss seven potential jurors, ensuring that at least two of the twelve jurors were Black.


These machinations and arguments raised urgent questions of the role of the lawyer in the Black justice movement. For Micheal Mansfield QC, as he notes in his Memoirs of a Radical Lawyer, the case as the moment in which he ‘became aware of the issues faced by post-war Black Britain’[2]. But what is the role of the radical lawyer in these cases?


In the Black Liberation struggle, the fight against racist and discriminatory policing has always been at the top of the agenda. It was what led to the Brixton uprising and countless others moments of resistance in the 1980s. Black people created their own mediums and spaces to actively challenge, document and resist everyday injustices they were subject to. Through these actions they were able to challenge and change a fraction of the mainstream's idea that a person in uniform was always right. Furthermore Black activists sought to change court etiquette in challenging police officers, something Barrister Rudy Nurayan mentions in his book Barrister for the Defence:


’no record of the Black Bar (Barristers) would be complete without recording their many great victories beginning with the case of the Metro four in the 1970, through stirring cases like the Stockwell 10, the Islington 18, the Cricklewood 12, the Thornton Heath 15. It is not only that they have won but that they have actually changed the style of advocacy at the English bar. Where barristers once winced before putting harsh allegations to police officers the Black bar has pioneered the point blank style of attack in criminal cases and other barristers have been forced to change their own styles to meet the volatility and vividness of Black defence counsel’[3].


The endless work of Black activists and radical lawyers, inspired by Nurayan and others, changed how cross-examination was conducted in the UK. However, the fight still continues. Lawyers need to actively work on bringing anti-racism into the courtroom and adopt a culture of challenging normalised forms of racial discrimination that persist throughout the criminal justice system. For example, this summer the radical campaigning group Law for Black Lives sent out a call to arms, released during the Black Lives Matter events:


‘Traditional approaches to lawyering, even public interest lawyering, often reinforce the status quo, rather than build for transformative change. Movement lawyering means taking direction from directly impacted communities and from organizers, as opposed to imposing our leadership or expertise as legal advocates. It means building the power of the people, not the power of the law.’[4]


In 1971, the radical lawyers for the Mangrove 9 trial had to take a Black-focused approach; and this is still vital in ensuring acquittals in cases of this nature. The lawyers needed to be fully embodied in the language and to know the structural oppression that the defendants faced in order for them to conduct a trial that represented the feelings of an entire Black community. Ian Macdonald in his closing speech involving the police beating of six young black women stated this ‘the day that any defence advocate starts censoring the case of his clients for a kind of political interest, then the candle of liberty begins to be snuffed out. I, for one, will have no part of that’[5].


Peter Kandler, the lawyer who set up Law centres in the UK, states: ‘Be suspicious of people in authority and be prepared to take them on. Too many lawyers don’t do that.’

Plainly, it is therefore impossible to take on a Black liberation case and not advance legal arguments that clearly showcase the bias (conscious or unconscious) and to expose the pharisaism imposed on Black people in the current justice system. This was central to the findings of the 2017 Lammy Review into the treatment and outcomes for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Individuals in the criminal justice system. The Mangrove 9 trial started this process nearly fifty years ago, and it continues today.


Although the battle was won in 1971, and justice done, the struggle is unfinshed. In 1988 Crichlow was falsely accused of supplying heroin and weed in another raid on the Mangrove. On that occasion, 48 officers in crash helmets and riot gear raided the premises. When freed on bail, he was banned from going anywhere near his business for about a year. At the trial, 36 officers testified against Crichlow but the jury believed the defendant and he was acquitted. In 1992 he received a settlement from the Home Office for his claim of false imprisonment, battery and malicious prosecution as a result of the 1988 raid. He received £50,000 but this was of little comfort, as the Mangrove had closed down, and in 1992 it was officially shut.


The Mangrove 9 trial is a constant reminder as to why we must continue to work with communities to fashion change, as they know what is best for them. The late Ian Macdonald QC explains this in an article he wrote for Race Today in 1977 called 'Up Against the Lawyers' in which he criticises traditional lawyers who were upset at the Black parents’ group instructions as to how they were to handle their case.


‘there is an assumption that experts know best ... The Mangrove 9 trial was a watershed because the defendants refused to play the role of the victim and to rely on the so-called ‘expertise’ of the lawyers, as they were so organised they could carry their intentions through. Once you recognise the defendant as a self-active and self-assertive human being in the court everything has to change- the power and role of lawyers, the style of advocacy and the method of case preparation ’[6].


Oppressed communities know all too well how they are treated by the system. Therefore, as MacDonald argues, these communities should be involved and included in the decision making. We must continue to pay homage to history and take on a bottom-up approach when fighting against racist oppression.


I am a community activist but also a person within the Law. I have worked with the Black community for up to five years. As I am on the ground, the community has always informed my approach and understanding to the world around me generally; but to the law particularly. This unique relationship is what led to me creating Black Protest legal Support UK (BPLS) - the UK’s first Black and Brown led protest support group for BLM Activists. BPLS facilitates pro-bono support to BLM activists that have been arrested or have legal issues arising from attendance at a recent Black Lives Matter protest. The desire to set up a space like Black protest legal came from the direct (mis-)treatment of Black people within the UK- at the oppressive hand of the state.


BPLS exists because of the system of oppression faced by Black people globally- it is an embodiment of resistance and shows a new wave of empowerment and solidarity from lawyers in the UK. It shows a growing commitment in the balancing and challenging of state powers particularly, when it comes to racialised groups that are already overpoliced.


We need radical lawyers to participate in bold new experiences, to not accept given discriminatory laws and to find ways to constantly challenge and no longer accept things that have become the norm in the legal world. I hope the rise in support of Black Protest Legal Support will allow the legacy of radical (movement) lawyering to be rebirthed and sustained in UK courts across the land.


Solidarity with all radical lawyers coming and gone: Black Lives must always matter!!


Ife Thompson is a community-based activist, writer, Human Rights Defender and Barrister and the founder of two civil society organisations: BLAM UK and Black Protest Legal Support UK.


[1] Mansfield, M. and Vanson, Y., 2010. Memoirs Of A Radical Lawyer. London: Bloomsbury, p.275.

[2] bid p.272

[3] Narayan, R., 1985. Barrister For The Defence. Hansib Publishing Ltd.pg 92

[4] Law For Black Lives. 2020. What Can I Do? — Law For Black Lives. [online] Available at: http://www.law4blacklives.org/respond

[5] Field, P., Bruce, R., Hassan, L. and Peacock, M. 2019, n.d. Here To Stay, Here To Fight., p 153

[6] ibid, p156

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