Obituary: Nina Stanger

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
NINA STANGER was an unusual woman to find practising at the English Bar in the late Sixties and early Seventies. Beautiful, Bohemian and fiercely clever, she brought glamour to the group of left-wing lawyers who championed civil liberties and defended in the political cases of the time.

She was born in Bromley, in Kent, in 1943; her father was an accountant, her mother a schoolteacher. After studying at the London School of Economics, she was called to the Bar in 1965. She was soon involved in some widely publicised cases. She defended the Holborn squatters and the squatters in 144 Piccadilly, who were arrested after they occupied empty buildings to draw attention to homelessness.

When the Old Bailey was bombed in 1972 she was one of the lawyers who defended the Price sisters. She also acted in many of the cases arising from student unrest in the universities and indeed met her future husband, the Oxford politics don and writer Steven Lukes, when she acted for the students involved in the occupation of the Indian Institute in 1974.

The Seventies also saw the resurgence of the Haldane Society as a meeting place for progressive lawyers. As an organisation it had gone through a moribund period but was revitalised by a new generation who wanted a serious discourse about the role of lawyers of the Left in making the law accessible to those who were disadvantaged. Stanger was an active member and her contributions to debate were delivered with great precision and dry wit, informed by her passion for civil liberties rather than rigid ideologies, which she deplored. She had an exquisite voice which she used to great effect, especially with judges, and abundant blonde hair which looked glorious even under the barrister's wig.

Although Stanger continued to practice throughout the Seventies, her marriage in 1977 to Lukes transformed her life, as it did his. Their partnership led them to diversify many of their interests. They travelled extensively to the United States and Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Peru, South Africa, China.

I first met Nina Stanger in 1971 when she had just represented the protesters against the Miss World contest and was part of the legal team defending in the Angry Brigade trial (a group of anarchists who in the late Sixties and early Seventies attempted to bomb establishment targets). Women at the criminal bar were still few in number and here was one with the sort of practice which interested me. I sought her out, eager to be reassured that survival was possible in that chilly, male- dominated environment; she not only provided warmth and wisdom, which I came to recognise as her hallmark, but was also a constant source of encouragement in the years which followed.

Whenever we met she was full of news, political and cultural, as well as stories about the legal systems she had witnessed. She also co-founded the British Kurdish Friendship Society in 1975 and with a handful of others put the issue of Kurdish oppression on the agenda.

The birth of her three children followed and then in 1987 her husband was offered a post as Professor of Political and Social Theory at the European Institute in Florence and she could think of no more idyllic place to live. She embraced the move to Italy as a great adventure, even though she had herself just that year been admitted to the New York bar - she and Steven had previously planned to go and live in America.

Although she continued over the years to take cases on an intermittent basis, her main focus became her children, her husband and Italian life, which enthralled her. She became immensely knowledgeable about Renaissance art and history, which seemed so appropriate as she had always looked like a Fra Angelico painting herself. She also made a comparative study of English and Italian law and not only organised conferences on the subject in Florence but acted as a consultant to Italian lawyers about British practice.

When I last saw her two years ago at a political seminar in Siena she was as vibrant and beautiful as ever. Amidst proud and tantalising descriptions of her children, she made me promise that I would resist all attempts by government to interfere with jury trials in Britain. Having seen the inquisitorial system at close quarters, she was highly critical of it.

Her descriptions of her life were wildly funny but delivered as always with careful pacing and a wonderful turn of phrase. She was well abreast of the political scene in the UK and incisive in her commentary about the key players. As we parted she told me of her plans to return to practice but only after she completed a novel which had been taking form in the months before.

Nina Vera Mary Stanger, barrister: born Bromley, Kent 6 August 1943; called to the Bar 1965; married 1977 Steven Lukes (two sons, one daughter); died Galliano, Italy 30 January 1999.