Legal experts from the Sikh community debate Britain’s involvement in the attack on the Golden Temple of Amritsar

Thu, 13 Mar 2014

To see all photo's from the event, please click here.

No5 Chambers was the venue on 1st March for a debate considering the role of the British Government in the 1984 attack on the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Punjab, India.

Under the heading of “India Golden Temple: What Happens Next?” the event was chaired by Ekwall Singh Tiwana, a barrister in No5’s Crime Group and featured a number of speakers.  These were Talbir Singh and Brian Dean, both of No5, renowned investigative journalist Robert Verkaik and Tom Watson MP of the Labour Party.

Crime Group barrister Talbir Singh gave his analysis of the report produced at the Prime Minister’s request to establish the facts surrounding Britain’s advice to the Indian Government.  Talbir described the report as one written by a senior member of the civil service but wholly inadequate and one of which Sir Humphrey of “Yes Minister” would be proud due to the potent sophistry of its content.  Further he described it as the best evidence available to demonstrate why the public are disengaged from politics.

He asked delegates to ponder how those involved in producing the report could have effectively gone through 23,000 documents in 19 days and made sense of them, and then go on to determine the terms of reference for the report.  Talbir suggested that the real question should be what did Britain do to prevent the massacre in 1984 and underlined that the report did not consider this. 

Brian Dean pointed out to delegates that the documents were on microfiche and not PC-based and so could not be electronically searched for key words and phrases. He then went on to describe the legal precedents and conventions to arrive at a public enquiry and gave examples of scenarios where Governments might find that a public inquiry was to be allowed.

Brian opined should a Government be reluctant to hold a public enquiry it could be a very difficult and drawn out process to persuade it to change its view.  However, should a British citizen be found who had been injured or killed in the raid this could prove to be a game-changer in terms of the likelihood of a public inquiry.

Jagdish Singh, a delegate and member of the “1984 Genocide Coalition”, declared that he and a survivor of the raid would travel this week to Downing Street with a number of previously undisclosed documents in the hope of putting them to the Prime Minister. 

Uncovering information was at the core of the interesting presentation made by Robert Verkaik. He described various routes that could be followed, such as the Freedom of Information Act and how Governments and corporations sometimes looked to thwart attempts to reveal what they considered to be sensitive material. 

The final speaker, Tom Watson MP for West Bromwich East, wished that he could wield the power of logic and purity of the legal brain to demolish the report as had Talbir Singh.  He explained that for 30 years Government had held that the 1984 massacre was an internal matter for India but that the revelation of a British soldier providing advice breached that defence and the Government was now obliged to put injustices right.

A question and answer session followed the presentations.  Delegate Jo Sidhu QC of 25 Bedford Row and Joint Chair of the Society of Asian Lawyers said: “This has been an extremely informative and productive event.  The quality of contributions has been excellent and I hope the debate now leads to a unified campaign to achieve justice and transparency, not just on behalf of the Sikh community but for all British people.”

Tom Watson MP commented:  “Today showcased the immense legal firepower that can be deployed by the Sikh community to forensically examine the form that an inquiry could take.  The Heywood review is at best flawed and all here are agreed that all political parties should commit an inquiry and, should the election intervene, all parties should include holding a public inquiry in their manifestos.”

Ekwall Singh Tiwana concluded: “I am proud that No5 Chambers has empowered its barristers to take a lead on this issue.  The delegates here today came from a host of legal firms and chambers and, in normal circumstances, they would be competing with each other.  However, today they are united in purpose and I hope that this unity can continue as we look for answers and press for a public inquiry to address injustice, which is what drives every lawyer. I think that answers the question of what happens next.

“I should just like to thank Robert Verkaik and Tom Watson MP for committing their time and knowledge and for making it clear they support our efforts, and also thank my fellow barristers, Talbir Singh and Brian Dean for applying their legal expertise to this issue.”

Anyone interested in the breadth of expertise available from No5 Chambers should visit www.no5.com or telephone 0845 210 5555.

To see all photo's from the event, please click here.

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