Humanitarian Seán Binder cleared to continue his legal training despite controversial Greek prosecution

Monday 4 December 2023

Gráinne Mellon acts pro bono for Seán Binder in international and European rights issues arising from his ongoing prosecution in Greece. She is led by Edward Fitzgerald KC of Doughty Street Chambers and instructed by Tessa Gregory, Leigh Day.

Gráinne Mellon and Emma Fitzsimons acted for Seán Binder in fitness to practice matters pro bono, also led by Edward Fitzgerald KC. They are instructed by Andrew Katzen, Hickman and Rose.

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Seán Binder has been granted permission to continue his training to become a barrister despite facing a criminal prosecution in Greece much criticised by jurists, international human rights experts and independent commentators.

The 29-year-old law student has faced criminal charges for life-saving migrant search and rescue work he carried out as a volunteer for a humanitarian NGO in Lesbos, Greece in 2018.

Mr Binder’s work at all times was humanitarian, motivated by the desire to save lives at sea.

His co-accused include the Syrian former Olympic swimmer, Sara Mardini, whose story featured in the Netflix documentary film ‘The Swimmers’.

Following his arrest in August 2018, Mr Binder spent 106 days in pre-trial detention in a Greek prison. He was charged with three misdemeanours (i) forgery; (ii) infringement of state secrets and (iii) possession of a radio without a licence; and three felonies (i) formation and membership of a criminal organisation; (ii) facilitation of illegal entry and (iii) money laundering.  

In September 2023, the Supreme Court of Greece affirmed the dismissal of the misdemeanour charges. However, the felony charges remain unresolved and he is in a state of “legal limbo” about whether and when they will be proceeded with. If found guilty of these offences he faces up to 20 years in jail. 

The ongoing prosecution against Mr Binder and his co-defendant, Sara Mardini, has been widely condemned as unfounded in evidence and contrary to international and Greek law. See for example:

Greece itself has been roundly criticised internationally for its approach to prosecutions of this nature as well as its treatment of migrants in general: see Safi & Ors v Greece (App No 5418/15), in a Chamber judgment of 7 July 2022, where the ECtHR found that Greece has violated Articles 2 and 3 ECHR.

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

Despite having no criminal convictions, the ongoing Greek case meant his application was referred to the Inns Conduct Committee to determine if he can be admitted as a student member, in order to complete the Bar Course.

An ICC Screening Panel referred the matter to a Hearing Panel to determine if he is a fit and proper person to be admitted to an Inn of Court.

On 30th November the ICC panel unanimously decided that Mr Binder is a fit and proper person. He can now continue his legal studies, with a view to starting his career in legal practice.

Ed Fitzgerald KC and Gráinne Mellon who acted for Seán both in relation to his ongoing Greek prosecution and before the ICC 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.”

Solicitor Andrew Katzen who acted for Sean at the ICC said:

“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.”

Notes to Editor

  • Gráinne Mellon and Emma Fitzsimons of Garden Court Chambers acted for Seán Binder at the ICC panel. They were led by Edward Fitzgerald KC of Doughty Street Chambers. Counsel were instructed by Andrew Katzen, Hickman & Rose. The legal team acted pro bono.
  • Edward Fitzgerald KC and Gráinne Mellon are instructed by Tessa Gregory at Leigh Day Solicitors in relation to the international and European human rights work, which is ongoing.

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