Records of John Platts-Mill QC
- Admin History:
John Faithful Fortescue Platts-Mills QC was born on 4th October 1906 to John Fortesque Wright Mills, a modest businessman, and Daisy Elizabeth Platts, one of New Zealand's earliest female doctors. Born and raised in Wellington, New Zealand, he attended Nelson College before gaining a double First degree in Law at Victoria University in 1927 and being called to the New Zealand Bar in 1928. It was whilst attending Victoria that he met Janet Cree, a painter and his future wife whom he would marry in England in 1936. As a result of his academic and sporting excellence at Victoria he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship allowing him to attend Balliol College, Oxford, where he gained a further First degree in Law and was called to the Bar at Inner Temple in 1932 having been admitted as a member of Inner Temple in 1929.
He worked as a lawyer in London during the 1930s and became politically active following the Hoare-Laval Pact in 1935 to which he strongly objected. He developed a close friendship with Lewis Clive author of The People's Army, joined the Labour Party in Finsbury in 1936, and was active in anti-fascist activities during the Spanish Civil War. He was a prominent member of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers from 1936 and served as president in the 1980s. He was a founding member of the National Council for Civil Liberties with which he helped defend many arrested for protesting against the facist rallies of Oswald Mosley. In September 1938 he presented a petition signed by 250 lawyers against the Munich Settlement at Downing Street. In addition, he was a member of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers serving as vice-president in the 1980s, as well as being associated with various socialist organisations and having strong sympathies towards the Soviet Union.
Such activities led the government to be suspicious of his hard-left political stance. This suspicion is the most likely cause of his being rejected from service in the RAF, navy and army during the Second World War. Whilst he was accepted to the RAF Volunteer Reserve in May 1940 he was later informed without explanation that his services were no longer required. Similar incidents occurred in relation to the navy and army later in the war. He undertook various voluntary roles to aid the war effort such as fire-watching duty at the Temple, and work with the London River Police. However, when Russia was invaded by Germany in 1941 Churchill requested his services to undertake a pro-Soviet propeganda campaign to promote support for Russia in Britain. In this capacity he helped establish Soviet 'Friendship Societies' throughout the country and participated in ambassadorial visits to Russia and other Soviet-Bloc countries. He became a founding member of the British-Soviet Friendship Society and the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR. His services were further put to use as a Bevin Boy when in 1944 he volunteered as a miner, received training at the Askern Colliery just north of Doncaster, and was then posted to the Yorkshire Main colliery at Edlington.
At the end of the war he continued his public relations work with the Soviet-Bloc and maintained close contact with the Soviet Anti-Facist Youth Committee. He was involved in the establishment of the World Federation of Democratic Youth organisation at the World Youth Conference in London on November 1945. Following the establishment of this organisation he conducted a number of diplomatic visits to Russia beginning with his first in 1945, and was sometimes accompanied by his wife Janet.
A short-lived parliamentary career began in 1945 when Platts-Mills was elected to represent Finsbury following the General Election. In the House of Commons he emerged as one of the leaders of the left-wing. However, his support for the Soviet Union and for an end to colonialism, his opposition to NATO and to the Cold War, and his claims that the United States had too much power in Europe brought him into conflict with the leadership of the Labour Party. The final straw came when in April 1948 he organised a letter of support for Pietro Nenni, the leader of the Italian Socialist Party, in a general election campaign. Nenni had allied with the Italian Communist Party to further the cause of socialism in the face of conservative and facist parties. The letter of support was signed by a number of other MPs including Konni Zilliacus, Geoffrey Bing and William Warbey, and went against the Labour Party National Executive Committee policy which sought to support the Socialist Unity Party in Italy. Platts-Mills refused to retract his support and was expelled in the wake of internal party rows and investigations. He served out the rest of the parliament as a Labour Independent and lost his seat in the 1950 General Election never again sitting in Parliament, and although he applied in 1964 and 1966 for re-admittance to the Labour Party this was not granted until 1969.
As a result of his hard-left reputation he received few legal cases in the early post-war years and devoted much of his time to championing the cause of the international peace movement. He was one of the delegates to the Partisans for Peace meeting in Paris in April 1949, as well as being one of the group's delegates sent to Stockholm which meeting resulted in the drafting of the Stockholm Peace Appeal. With the British Peace Committee he spoke in many of the main cities in Britain, was involved in the gathering of signatures in support of the Stockholm Peace Appeal, and aided Ivor Montague in organising the second Partisans for Peace meeting in November 1950 at Sheffield Town Hall. This meeting would be prevented by government intervention. However the delegates were redirected to Warsaw where the World Peace Council was established, to which Platts-Mills (though not present) was elected one of the English delegates.
Although out of parliament and the Labour Party his conviction to socialist ideals never wavered and his championing of social justice and equality was reflected in the cases he worked on. In the 1940s he was involved in the Hereford Birched Boy case. In 1947 he was part of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers strike at the Savoy Hotel in London, the first legal strike since 1939, and went on to defend some of the protesters arrested. He joined the Transport and General Workers Union after moving from London to East Sussex in 1957 and helped to establish a local branch. Whilst en-route to New Zealand was way-layed in Australia by the socialist cause. He became involved in the successful campaign against the referendum held by the Australian government under Bob Menzies to have the Communist Party and associated groups declared illegal. In the 1950s he became involved in settling the last of the Workmen's Compensation cases when the Workmen's Compensation Act was abolished by Attlee. With the National Council for Civil Liberties he was involved in the campaign against the forced use of 'Mental Defectives' as domestic servants in hospitals. In the 1960s he campaigned for more representative juries and sought to have jurors of West Indian and African descent included in cases where the defendant was of the same descent. He was involved as counsel in the John Profumo Affair and the prosecition of Enoch Powell under the Race Relations Act in the 1970s.
He established himself as one of Britain's leading barristers at the Old Bailey and was appointed a Queens Counsel in 1964 after several unsuccessful applications. His clients as Defence Counsel included the Great Train Robbers, the Kray twins, and the Richardsons. His legal practice went from strength to strength and culminated in his being head of Cloisters Chambers in London. With his increasing legal reputation Platts-Mills was invited to serve on a number of public inquiry committees. In this capacity he was involved with the inquiries into the Hull Prison Riot in the 1970s, Sizewell B in the 1980s, the policing of the Manchester University Demonstration in the 1980s, and the Nottinghamshire Policing of the Miners' Dispute in the 1980s.
His work in the international arena also reflected his commitment to humanitarian causes and he travelled all over the world defending political prisoners and campaigning for better prison conditions. In this context he worked in Yemen, Egypt, Iraq and South Africa amongst various other countries. He was also involved in a number of international inquiry committees including the International Commission of Inquiry into the Crimes of the Racist and Apartheid Regimes in Southern Africa - Angola and Namibia and the International Commission of Inquiry into Israeli Crimes Against the Lebanese and Palestinian Peoples in the 1980s.
In his personal business Platts-Mills was a longstanding trustee of the Unity Theatre Trust, a socialist theatre in Camden, and served as the chairman of the Trust during the 1970s when the theatre was being rebuilt following a fire. He was also heavily involved in farming in East Sussex and had links to Morelands and Bart Hall farms, and resided at various properties including Assington Hall and Harrock House in East Sussex. He also owned investment property known as Haven Flats at Pembroke Dock, the yacht 'Naama', and had stakes in the Hornbeam Company, IT Food Products and Audio Guide UK.
John Platts-Mills died on 26th October 2001 having retired as Head of Chambers in 1991 but continuing to practise at the bar in the last years of his life. His wife Janet had died in 1995 but he was survived by their six sons Tim, Jonathan, Tom, Barney, Ben, and Mark.
- Collection contains the papers of the New Zealand-born Barrister John Platts-Mills QC who had his practice in Cloisters Chambers, Inner Temple. The collection consists of the following papers: Files relating to UK based subjects, 1945-2000 [U DPM/1]; Files relating to international subjects, 1931-2000 [U DPM/2]; Files relating to personal subjects, 1927-2001 [U DPM/3]; Correspondence arranged chronologically by year and relating to both personal and professional matters, 1930-2000 [U DPM/4]; Draft and published articles and addresses written by Platts-Mills, 1943-2000 [U DPM/5]; Pocket and desk diaries kept by Platts-Mills and his wife Janet nee Cree, 1946-1997 [U DPM/6]; Files relating to legal cases and Chambers business, [U DPM/7], and files relating to the Unity Theatre Trust of which Platts-Mills was a long-standing trustee, 1955-2000 [U DPM/8]. Papers within the files generally include correspondence, notebooks and notes, press cuttings, photographs, pamphlets, and copy court documents.