Gray’s Inn admits student charged in Greece over refugee work

Seán Binder and Sarah Mardini
Photo: Amnesty

Gray’s Inn has admitted as a student member a man who is facing a criminal prosecution in Greece over refugee rescue work he did as a volunteer in Greece.

The inns conduct committee decided that Seán Binder is a fit and proper person and so can begin the Bar training course.

The 29-year-old volunteered for Emergency Response Centre International on the Greek island of Lesbos. His job was to help spot boats in distress at sea and help refugees.

In August 2018, he was arrested, along with Syrian former Olympic swimmer Sara Mardini – whose story featured in the Netflix documentary film ‘The Swimmers’ – and they spent 106 days in pre-trial detention in a Greek prison.

They were charged with three misdemeanours – forgery, infringement of state secrets and possession of a radio without a licence – and three felonies: formation and membership of a criminal organisation, facilitation of illegal entry and money laundering.

In September 2023, the Supreme Court of Greece affirmed the dismissal of the misdemeanour charges.

But the felony charges remain unresolved and Mr Binder said he did not know whether and when they would be prosecuted. If found guilty, they face up to 20 years in jail.

Concern about refugee defenders being prosecuted has been expressed by the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists.

In 2021, Mr Binder applied to become a student member of Gray’s Inn, having secured two scholarships and a criminal pupillage.

Despite having no criminal convictions, the ongoing Greek case meant his application was referred to the inns conduct committee, where he was successfully represented by Edward Fitzgerald KC of Doughty Street Chambers, leading Gráinne Mellon and Emma Fitzsimons of Garden Court Chambers.

They were instructed by Andrew Katzen of Hickman & Rose. All acted pro bono.

Mr Fitzgerald and Ms Mellon are also acting for Mr Binder in relation to the Greek prosecution.

In a statement, they said: “We have serious concerns as to the basic compliance with international human rights law in this case and consider that a series of breaches of Mr Binder’s fundamental rights have already occurred.

“Mr Binder’s search and rescue work sought to protect the life, health and physical integrity of men, women and children at sea and immediately on arrival in Greece.

“A proper application of the duty to provide assistance – and the exemption for humanitarian work – in international law should serve to protect him from prosecution for this work. We reiterate our call to the Greek authorities to urgently review and drop the remaining charges against Mr Binder.”

Mr Katzen added: “Seán Binder is a remarkable young man who was carrying out vital, life-saving humanitarian work in Greece when he was arrested.

“The panel’s decision confirms his fitness and propriety to pursue a career in the law. I hope that the Greek authorities will take note of this and terminate the misconceived prosecution against him.”

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