Contemporary Portrait Artist
Clive Stafford Smith
168 x 198 cm
Oil on canvas 2006
Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent over 30 years working on behalf of defendants facing the death penalty in the USA. After graduating from Columbia Law School in New York, Clive spent nine years as a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights working on death penalty cases and other civil rights issues. In 1993, Clive moved to New Orleans and launched the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center, a non-profit law office specialising in the representation of poor people in death penalty cases.
In 1999 Clive founded Reprieve and, the following year, he was awarded an OBE
for ‘humanitarian services’. Since 2004, he has focused on achieving due process for the prisoners being held by the US in Guantánamo Bay, as well as continuing his work on death penalty cases. Clive was made a Rowntree Visionary and Echoing Green Fellow in 2005. As director, Clive is responsible for overseeing Reprieve’s Casework Programme, as well as the direct representation of prisoners in Guantánamo Bay and on death row as a Louisiana licensed attorney at law.
Some years ago I painted this almost life-sized portrait of Clive, having been intrigued by this man who had all the advantages of a public school education and yet had chosen to ignore the attractions of wealth and materialism in order to defend the powerless and vulnerable. I called the picture “Prisoner of Conscience” believing that he had become imprisoned by his conscience into a job he could not abandon. But as he spoke I realised that he was a more-than-willing prisoner, finding immense satisfaction in his work, the obvious trauma of watching six men die in the execution chamber easily outweighed by the huge number of innocent people exonerated.
It’s not just the understandable and publicly accessible innocence argument that drives Clive, but his compassion for the most reviled and despised people in our society, those guilty of horrendous crimes. His belief that the death penalty solves nothing and that all should be entitled to a fair trial and appropriate treatment appears to motivate him as much for the guilty as for the innocent.
His wife, Emily, who established Innocence Project New Orleans, shares his vision. As I talk to Clive in his cottage in Dorset, I can hear Emily playing with their young son - an everyday scene of contented domesticity and a perfect counterbalance to their extraordinary experiences of fighting for the most basic of human rights - the right to life.
Part of the interview with Clive Stafford Smith is available to listen to below but the quality may be poor so please click the button for the transcript.
“There is nothing like taking someone’s life and giving it back to them - that’s just fantastic!”
"It’s about having someone who is totally powerless who the whole world hates and just being able to say no to all that hatred."
"I can still see in very vivid black and white the images of them electrocuting him and those will never go away. But you have two solutions to that - one is to say ‘Oh I can’t deal with that’ and the other is to get annoyed and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
"If you look at New Orleans alone, in terms of the people who’ve been sentenced to death, over the last 20 years we’ve exonerated more people than they’ve executed - that’s pretty shocking."