Barrister; Red Lion Chambers, London
I was raised on a council estate, in a single parent family and went to a local state Catholic school in Ellesmere Port. I was fortunate to have a family who encouraged me to gain my first degree in biochemistry at Sheffield University. This experience was the catalyst for everything that followed.
I have always had a passion for justice and eventually I found my true vocation as a barrister at the independent bar. It took some time to ‘find’ law, which is why I am an advocate for providing people who may not otherwise have an opportunity to experience a legal career, with the necessary insight and support. The legal profession must reflect the community it serves, not be aloof from it.
I undertook the Bar Conversion Course at City University, London. By the end of my first day I had a headache. I had always been taught by rote – you learnt the core material and did the coursework, but at this place you were trained to challenge and think creatively. I have since argued ‘why isn’t critical learning taught more widely?’ – it was the foundation for my career.
My bar courses were part-funded by Gray’s Inn scholarships. Pupillage was unfunded. I worked as a door supervisor at Brown’s Restaurant and the Voodoo Lounge nightclub in the West End to get the extra money I needed to live.
While practising I served a full term as a Lambeth councillor before stepping down to become head of chambers at 1 Gray’s Inn Square. Legal training and practice can help politicians in not only drafting effective legislation, but also in the presentation of ideas and arguments. In the past some have said that there are too many lawyers in politics but I disagree – lawyers are needed to improve the quality of legislation, representation and the standard of political debate. Strong professional ethics are also fundamental to lawyers.
Restructuring 1 Gray’s Inn Square during my three-and-a-half years as head was the most difficult time I have had in my legal career. But, although sometimes painful, change was essential to create a successful set with a bright future.
My relationships with solicitors has always been excellent. My mentor, Niall Quinn QC, was among the first group of solicitors to break the glass ceiling and be appointed QC. Niall sadly died in August but his sage-like advice will always be with me.
There are a few campaigns I am currently working on where I would like to see change. Firstly, ‘Sarah’s Case’, currently lodged at the European Court of Human Rights, which is looking at the law of duress in this country and whether it is misogynistic in its approach towards women. Figures in the US evidence that our prisons are full of women who have been coerced into some of the crimes they are alleged to have committed – is the justice system failing women? Another issue I am championing is ‘Eve’s Law’ where there needs to be legislation introduced to protect the privacy of victims of domestic violence in the courts, in the same way if you are a victim of domestic violence or abuse you can keep your name off the electoral register. Finally, I am an advocate for a change in the law to require mandatory reporting of child abuse by certain categories of professionals.
Interview: Monidipa Fouzder