Background to the Collection
John Platts-Mills was born 1904 in New Zealand, and became a barrister and Queen's Counsel with a successful legal practice at the English Bar. He became a member of the Inner Temple in 1929, was made a Bencher of the Inner Temple in the 1960s, and was head of Cloisters Chambers until his retirement in 1991. He was a dedicated hard-left socialist who worked extensively on civil rights cases and public enquiries in the domestic and international arenas.
Platts-Mills was elected as Labour MP for Finsbury in the 1945 General Election. In the House of Commons he emerged as one of the leaders of the left-wing. However, his hard-left views brought him into conflict with the leadership of the Labour Party. The final straw came when in April 1948 he organised a letter of support for Pietro Nenni, the leader of the Italian Socialist Party, in a general election campaign. Nenni had allied with the Italian Communist Party to further the cause of socialism in the face of conservative and fascist parties. Platts-Mills refused to retract his support and was expelled in the wake of internal party rows and investigations. He served out the rest of the parliament as a Labour Independent and lost his seat in the 1950 General Election. He never again served as an MP, although he was re-admitted to the Labour Party in 1969 and remained a lifelong supporter.
Platts-Mills married the painter Janet Cree in 1936 and they went on to have six sons. They lived in East Sussex and were involved in a number of farming projects. He retired as head of Chambers in 1991 but continued his legal practice almost until his death at the age of 97 in 2001.
What is in the collection?
Papers in this collection (reference U DPM) include correspondence, writings, notes, collated material, press cuttings and diaries. They document various aspects of Platts-Mills' professional and personal life including:
- Involvement in high profile legal cases including the Shrewsbury Trial, the murder trial of the Kray Twins, cases surrounding the introduction of the Mental Health Bill, the Hull Licensing Judges case, cases resulting from the 1984 Miners’ Strike
- Involvement in various domestic and international public enquiries including those into the Manchester Students Union Riot, the Hull Prison Riot, the Sizewell B Enquiry, and the International Commission of Inquiry into the Crimes of Israeli Forces against the Peoples of Palestine and Lebanon
- Involvement in various movements including those against the rise of neo-nazism and the use of nuclear power
- Involvement with various societies and groups including the Society for Cultural Relations with Russia, the Anglo-Soviet Friendship Society, the Haldane Society, the British Peace Council, the World Peace Council, Lawyers v The Bomb, and the National Council for Civil Liberties
- Involvement in the plight of political prisoners and human rights cases in various countries including Yemen, South Africa, Turkey, Uganda, Greece, and Romania
- Personal issues including the Nenni Telegram Affair, expulsion from the Labour Party, re-admittance to the Labour Party, properties owned, business ventures, and family members.
What areas of research would the collection support?
If you are researching any of the following areas it is likely that aspects of the collection will be of potential interest to you:
- Socialist legal history of the 20th century
- Labour Party politics in the mid-20th century
- Anglo-Soviet relations in the mid-20th century
- Public enquiries in the mid-20th century
- International enquiries in the-20th century
- Early Rhodes Scholars
- Perceptions of hard-left socialists in Britain during the 20th century
- Impact of associations with communism on political careers during the mid-20th century in Britain
- Political networking and influence.
Are there any access issues?
Due to the personal and legal sensitive information contained in many of the records in this collection, some material is closed under data protection legislation. Please see the online catalogue for details of closed material. To enquire about access to closed items please contact us.
Is there any related material?
Hull History Centre also holds the following collections which might provide extra context to the papers of John Platts-Mills:
- Papers of Liberty (formerly the National Council for Civil Liberties) (U DCL)
- Papers relating to the British Soviet Friendly Society (U DX347)
See also John Platts-Mills' autobiography, Muck, Silk and Socialism: Recollections of a Left-Wing Queen's Counsel (Paper Publishing, 2002). A reference copy is available at the History Centre.