Described, in relation to his political views, by The Independent newspaper in England as “a teenage revolutionary who never grew up”, barrister John Platts-Mills QC died on 30 October 2001 in England aged 95. The London-based New Zealand Lawyers’ Society held a memorial service for him on 24 January 2002.
Born in Wellington in 1906, John Platts-Mills graduated in law from Victoria University in 1927 and then studied at Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship, where more first class degrees and athletics distinctions followed.
He was called to the Inner Temple Bar in 1932, served with the RAF and in the Yorkshire collieries during the war and was elected a Labour MP in 1945. His dissent of Labour policies to rearm Germany saw him expelled from the Labour Party in 1948 but he remained in Parliament until 1950 as a Labour Independent.
His left-wing views saw him strongly support the Soviet Union and he acted as an envoy for the militant British union leader Arthur Scargill, when he sought funds from Libyan leader Colonel Gadaffi during the bitter coalminers strike in 1984-85.
Legally, as a junior, he got involved in constitutional debates, often involving the death sentence (he was always opposed to the death penalty), in 20 different jurisdictions in the West Indies, Africa, Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and the commercial courts of Romania and Bulgaria, until the local bars restricted such representation to London Silks. John Platts-Mills then applied for Silk eight times before being appointed in 1964.
His practice then changed, with him appearing at the Old Bailey regularly as defence counsel for such defendants as two of the convicted robbers in the Great Train Robbery, the Kray brothers and other “redoubtable criminals”.
John Platts-Mills wrote about his career in Muck, Silk and Socialism, which was due to be published in the United Kingdom in November 2001.
This obituary was first published in LawTalk 576, 11 February 2002, page 6.