Clive Stafford Smith
Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve.
After graduating from Columbia Law School in New York, Clive spent nine years as a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights working on death penalty cases and other civil rights issues. In 1993, Clive moved to New Orleans and launched the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, a non-profit law office specialising in representation of poor people in death penalty cases.
In total, Clive has represented over 300 prisoners facing the death penalty in the southern United States. While he only took on the cases of those who could not afford a lawyer – he has never been paid by a client – and always the most despised, he prevented the death penalty in all but six cases (a 98% “victory” rate). Few lawyers ever take a case to the US Supreme Court – Clive has taken five, and all of the prisoners prevailed.
In 2001, when the US military base at Guantánamo Bay was pressed into service to hold prisoners beyond the reach of the courts, Clive joined two other lawyers to sue for access to the prisoners there. He believed that the camp was an affront to democracy and the rule of law: his ultimate goal was to close Guantánamo and restore to the US and its allies their legitimacy as champions of human rights. During those early days, Clive received death threats and was labelled a “traitor” for defending “terrorists”; it was three years before the Supreme Court allowed lawyers into the prison camp.
Meanwhile, Clive travelled the Middle East to find the families of the ‘disappeared’ prisoners, undeterred by the interventions by unhappy US allies – including the Jordanian secret police, who took him into custody in 2004.
To date, Clive has helped secure the release of 69 prisoners from Guantánamo Bay (including every British prisoner) and still acts for 8 more. This is a phenomenal number – far more than any other lawyer or law firm – and demonstrates Clive’s peerless ability in his field. More recently, Clive has turned a strategic eye to the other secret detention sites, including Bagram in Afghanistan and the British island of Diego Garcia.
Clive has received a great many awards and honours. In 2000 he was awarded an OBE for ‘humanitarian services’. He was a Soros Senior Fellow, Rowntree Visionary (2005) and Echoing Green Fellow (2005). In addition, he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from The Lawyer Magazine (2003) and The Law Society, the Benjamin Smith Award from the ACLU of Louisiana (2003), the Gandhi Peace Award (2004), a Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Award (2008), International Freedom of the Press Award (2009), Unione Nazionale Cronisti Italiani (for the defence of Sami el Haj) and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Award (2010).
Alongside these, Clive was ranked 6th on the 2009 list of Britain’s Most Powerful Lawyers (The Times, July 2009) and ranked 3rd on 2009 “High Profile” British lawyer list (The Lawyer, September 2009).