Why Michael was an extraordinary lawyer

Michael Seifert, who has died at 74, stayed loyal to his communist beliefs his entire life and worked - usually unpaid - for various causes, including the National Union of Mineworkers

Friday, 18th August 2017 — By John Gulliver

Michael Seifert

Michael Seifert

IN the small front room of the Doncaster council house the large matriarchal figure sat with a face riven by anxiety. Her son, quite unfairly, I thought, faced a serious charge involving a picket-line fracas.

It was during the miners’ strike of 1984 and I knew what to do right away – ring the firm Seifert Sedley for advice. Back it came – sound, solid legal advice, and the fear and anxiety on the matriarch’s face evaporated.

The extraordinary lawyer Michael Seifert, who principally ran the miners’ “strike desk” at the company, has died at 74, and his life story has passed largely unnoticed in the mainstream media, except for The Guardian online. He wasn’t enough of a celebrity to merit the attention of television or the press.

The Seifert family are a local family – Michael and his siblings grew up in a large detached house in Broadlands Road, Highgate Village. His parents also came from large families.

The Seiferts originated in Russia and came to London via Poland at the turn of the last century, because of the anti-Jewish pogroms under the leadership of the Tsar.

Michael, born in 1942, was the son of Connie, a teacher, and Sigmund, a lawyer, both communists. However, law wasn’t the only profession in the family – Michael’s uncle Richard was a London-based architect who, in the ’60s, built the first West End skyscraper – Centrepoint.

It was reviled at first and stood empty for years, but is now enjoying a renaissance and is emerging as a building of some beauty.

Michael enjoyed a comfortable, middle-class upbringing and, as his parents were both politically left-wing, guests to their home included Charlie Chaplin, singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson and FBI fugitive Angela Davis.

At six years old Michael and his sister Sue first met Charlie Chaplin.

Michael grew up in Broadlands Road, Highgate Village

“I think it was the wedding of his daughter Oona,” Sue told me.

More vividly stamped on her mind is the time she and Michael saw Paul Robeson play Othello. “His rich voice – how can one forget that,” she said.

Michael went to Highgate School and then Oxford University. Perhaps unsurprisingly, considering his communist beliefs, he would sell the Daily Worker in the city.

I don’t know what his tutors at St John’s College thought of him, but he did well in history and went on to train as a solicitor at the great firm of Lord Goodman’s.

Whatever his family connections allowed him to be, the fact remains that he stayed loyal to his communist beliefs his entire life and worked, usually unpaid, for various causes, including those of the National Union of Mineworkers.

He was a great friend of Arthur Scargill, then of the anti-apartheid movement. He was invited by Nelson Mandela to his presidential inauguration.

Michael’s was a rich personality – he was passionate about football, cricket, opera and poetry.

When the Seifert Sedley firm closed, Michael took over a desk as a sole practitioner at Simons Muirhead and Burton in Soho, where I often met him when I was seeking advice on libel law.

He knew the Camden New Journal as a radical local weekly, and we would often chat about Camden affairs.

He had an infectious sense of humour and he’d often regale me with stories as we walked to the bus stop together.

He was a wonderful human being with a keen sense of morality and a strong sense of duty.

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