I grew up by the seaside in Bridlington, East Yorkshire. My family were all in politics – my grandfather, father and mother were all town councillors – my father had a fatal accident on Council business when I was 11. My mother was Mayor.
I became the first in my family to go to university – Warwick, to study law. I came to London in 1975 as a post-graduate law student at the LSE. I’ve been in London ever since.
With two law degrees, I decided the last thing I wanted to become was a lawyer! I worked for what is now the GMB trade union. But eventually, I went back to law school at Guilford and qualified as a solicitor.
I specialised in representing injured workers (and their unions). Some of my more ‘famous’ cases included the Kings Cross Fire and the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster but my job satisfaction came from ensuring the ordinary people seriously injured in unspectacular circumstances through no fault of their own, or the families of those who were killed at work or on the roads, received the compensation to which they were entitled , to enable them to get on with their lives..
In 1982 I was living in Paddington and won my first election, to be a local Councillor in Westminster. Little did I realise that this would lead to me playing my part, as Leader of the Council’s Labour Group, in exposing what the courts described as “the biggest act of corruption in local government history” of the last century: the Conservatives’ ‘Homes for Votes’ gerrymandering scandal, under their infamous leader Dame Shirley Porter.
In 1997, I became the first Labour MP in Hendon since 1945. I was re-elected in 2001 and in 2005, and narrowly lost in 2010 by a mere 106 votes out of over 48,000.
Much of my first two terms were taken up with the campaign to rebuild Edgware Hospital, which was completed in 2005, with the opening of the new £40 million flagship building.
I developed a reputation as a private members’ Bill expert, too. My first, Holocaust Memorial Day, was taken up by the Government, and is now part of the national calendar. I introduced a Corporate Manslaughter Bill, which helped push the Government into promoting their own Bill, now law. My third, the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Bill became law, helping resolve problems concerning Jewish divorce.
I also promoted Bills to clarify the Human Rights Act, so as to apply it to private care homes, accepted by the Government; and others to secure justice for asbestos victims.
In 2005, I was appointed Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. For far too long, human rights have been the preserve of the lawyers and have got a bad reputation as a result. As a ‘reformed’ lawyer, I worked to change this approach, to show that human rights are for all, especially the vulnerable. Our reports on the treatment of the elderly in hospitals and care homes, victims of people trafficking, access to services for adults with learning disabilities, and on the rights of the mentally ill are examples of this. Of course, we looked at counter-terrorism too, and devised a human rights compliant legal strategy, elements of which were taken up by the Government. Our recommendations on the policing of protest were fully accepted. We produced ground breaking reports on the role of business and human rights in the developing world, and on the issue of a Bill of Rights for the UK.
I also served on the Standards and Privileges Committee – our way of policing the activities of MPs: and on the powerful Liaison Committee, the committee of committee chairs – we questioned the Prime Minister at length, twice a year.
Since leaving Parliament, I have worked on a consultancy basis, in particular as co-ordinator of the Access to justice Action Group, campaigning against the Coalition Government’s attack on the rights of ordinary people to obtain legal redress in the courts.
I speak Conversational French (A-level); Greek (Institute of Linguists, Grade 1)
My personal interests include working as voluntary Chair of Trustees, Council of British Archaeology, London; gardening; the arts, especially opera and cinema, historical research, and Greece –history and culture.