Ian Macdonald QC 1939-2019

Ian Macdonald QC, former President of the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA) from its foundation in 1984, has died. We are here because he was here first. Without him, and his role in fighting for migrants’ rights, immigration lawyers and advisors would not be equipped to live and work as they do. His struggle for justice was rooted in an anti-racist practice that involved campaigning and organising, as well as defending in criminal courts those prejudiced by attitudes to their race or ethnicity in the police and criminal justice system. His work in laying the foundations of immigration law as we know it arose in that context. He was a member of the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination from its foundation in 1964. And among the notable criminal trials, his successful defence of the Mangrove Nine at the Old Bailey in 1970 is remembered for his applied understanding of how racial prejudice and discrimination work to distort policing and criminal justice.

Through his immigration practice in the courts and tribunals, as well as in his writing on immigration law in Macdonald’s Immigration Law and Practice (in publication in successive editions since 1983)and elsewhere, Ian made working for, with, and on behalf of migrants a subject of serious concern. Thanks to him the culture of immigration practice for those working on behalf of migrants is rooted in respect for, and solidarity with, people who travel across borders. Thanks to his example, immigration lawyers and advisors had a guide on how to be human: to be a warm and generous in personal encounters with everyone you meet, to bring compassion and kindness to clients whose lives are far more difficult than people who are settled sometimes grasp, and to be fearless when speaking up for others who are vulnerable to the consequences of their precarious lives.

Every aspect of immigration law was within Ian’s knowledge. The supreme virtue of editing ‘the book’ on immigration law was his command of the entire field. Beyond that, he had the intelligence and insight to appreciate how power operated through the state system of immigration control to the profound disadvantage of those affected by its exercise.  Rather than despair, he used his immense skills to push back against such power, to work with others without seeking glory, and through his legal practice to develop and advance immigration law and practice to the benefit of individuals and communities affected by immigration control.

When the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) was set up in 1997, Ian was appointed a Special Advocate, allowed to see and challenge evidence withheld on national security grounds from those subject to its jurisdiction. The role of the Special Advocate is not without controversy, even though it is said by some to render secret legal proceedings fair.   The difficulties he encountered in working with such secret material, while being forbidden to take instructions from the person affected, came to a head when SIAC’s jurisdiction was extended to embrace the indefinite detention of foreign nationals. Ian resigned on principle. It is a measure of the depth of his ethical and political commitment to justice for migrants that he took such a step while other Special Advocates remained in place.

When the Borders, Citizenship, and Immigration Act 2009 was a Bill in Parliament, we were talking about some particularly mendacious proposal advanced by the Home Office. Ian considered the proposal in question and compared it to other measures used in earlier immigration acts and the Commonwealth Immigration Acts of 1962 and 1968 and the Immigration Act 1971 in particular. He knew his way around the legislation as it is, as it was, and as it had been. He remembered it all and he knew what to do about it.

ILPA paid tribute to Ian at our AGM on 23 November 2019. We celebrated his life and his achievements.  Generations of lawyers and advisors gave their thanks and wrote in his memorial book. But the voices that really need to be heard to appreciate the measure of this great, great, person are the man who was not deported because Ian argued his case, the woman reunited with her family after Ian’s advocacy, and the man released from endless immigration detention because Ian persuaded the Court his confinement was unreasonable.  There are so many of them, hundreds and thousands. Not just those who he personally helped but also those helped by others. Others who were trained by Ian, who learned the law from his books, who were critical lawyers because of the way he carried himself, and who were inspired to try and speak as he spoke: clearly, in reasoned words, and on behalf of our common humanity.

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