It’s a year since my friend Matthew Seligman died. He is now one of the many thousands of hearts on the National Covid Memorial Wall by the Thames.
It’s a sign of his remarkable humility that I had known him for quite a few months before I discovered that he was a pretty famous bass player. He never once let slip to me that he had played at Live Aid with David Bowie; I only discovered that when I read about his death last April.
Matthew was a lawyer to me. We worked together in a truly awful, poky office in Kentish Town a few years ago. We ranted to each other about institutional racism and cruelty, eavesdropped on each other’s calls and occasionally left motivational post-it notes for each other. He distracted me during a call once by slapping a note with the word “FORMIDABLE” on the wall above my desk. He was very good at making you feel good about yourself.
I knew him as a passionate, funny, slightly chaotic and incredibly kind man who was preoccupied with the rights of people suffering with mental illness and those seeking asylum in the UK. There were lots of tributes to him after he died which focused on his brilliant life as a musician but less on his on his legal career. I think you can get something of a sense of the person he was from a few of the cases he worked on.
S v Airedale National Health Service Trust was a Court of Appeal case in which Lady Justice Hale provided the judgment of the court. Matthew appeared as junior counsel.
It was a challenge to the use of seclusion in hospitals where psychiatric patients are detained. The court found that the particular hospital was not justified in keeping patients in seclusion from the time when it ceased to be a necessary and proportionate response to the risk they presented to others. It was for the hospital to justify their actions, not the other way about.
Sessay was a High Court case in which Matthew was the instructing solicitor.
He acted for a young woman who was suffering with mental illness. She was detained by police without a warrant and unaccompanied by an approved mental health professional or a registered medical practitioner. She was later detained in hospital pending the making of an application for her compulsory admission to hospital for assessment under section 2 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
The Court found that her removal to hospital by police and detention at the hospital were unlawful and breached her rights under Article 5 and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
TTM was a case in which Matthew was the instructing solicitor. TTM was a Lithuanian man who came to the UK with his brother to seek work. In 2008, it became apparent that he was mentally unwell and in November he was admitted to Homerton Hospital for assessment. His brother accepted that he was unwell but became concerned about his treatment and sought legal advice. The case concerned the actions and powers of the Approved Mental Health Professional (AMHP) who had made the application for TTM’s detention under the Mental Health Act.
The High Court dismissed the claim, but the Court of Appeal allowed the appeal brought on TTM’s behalf. The court found that the AMHP had acted in a way which was incompatible with his right under article 5 not to be deprived of his liberty except in accordance with a procedure prescribed by law.
Matthew will have enjoyed Lord Justice Toulson’s closing remarks:
Our system of law is rightly scrupulous to ensure that in matters affecting individual liberty the law is strictly applied. It is a hallmark of a constitutional democracy.
Matthew encouraged me to make use of my higher rights qualification when I had a judicial review claim I wanted to bring on behalf of one of my clients a few years ago. He gave me lots of useful advice to draft the grounds for the claim. When I told him that I didn’t have a wig to wear in court he gave me his. He had his wig in very fancy black tin with his name in gold lettering. I trundled off to the High Court in Manchester with my MATTHEW SELIGMAN tin, my unworn gown and collars and his words of encouragement in my head. He was delighted when I rang him and told him that the claim had been successful.
Shortly after this, he travelled to Japan (where he had lived previously and where his daughter was living with her mother). There had been a serious earthquake and Matthew was worried sick about his family. He was able to track them down, they were safe and he was reunited with them. He didn’t return to practice for a while and we lost touch with one another.
I think he had forgotten that I still had his wig and tin. He seemed genuinely surprised and pleased when I made contact with him and told him that I needed to get it back to him. I don’t know if he used it again. I was sorry to part with it.
It is a terrible shock reading about the death of someone you know well. The horror of those first few weeks of Covid will forever be bound up for me in the dreadful experience of discovering that Matthew had died in a hospital not too far from where I live. Everything I read was about Matthew the bass-player. I discovered more about his musical career after he had died than he ever told me about. He played with some of my favourite musicians and I was very sorry not to have had the chance to quiz him about some of those experiences. But I am very happy to have known and worked with Matthew the lawyer, the man who reinvented himself.
I put a playlist together of songs Matthew had played on. It’s fantastic and you can listen to it here.
If you want to get a better sense of Matthew, here's a lovely YouTube clip in which he talks about his bass playing on David Bowie’s Absolute Beginners.