My family and I faced the overt racism towards black and Asian minorities of the 1970s and 1980s. I grew up with an urge to challenge these injustices. The iconic figures who fought this injustice, such as Mandela, were often lawyers. Inevitably, I ended up becoming a lawyer myself.
Workers who bring discrimination or whistleblowing claims are often vilified by their employers. As their lawyers, we need to show support and empathy at a particularly difficult time in their lives. It can be a thankless task, but gratifying when we achieve a successful outcome for our clients.
The judicial pensions case [Qureshi represented the six High Court judges] was fascinating and important, focusing on a scheme brought in by the government that was discriminatory, particularly on the grounds of age. The arguments centred around whether the changes were justified. The government ultimately lost its appeal to the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which agreed with the original tribunal’s decision that the changes were disproportionate. The government has been granted permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal, so there is still a long way to go.
I have been lucky to work on many important cases. As a trainee, I worked on the Ladbroke Grove Rail Inquiry; 31 people had died needlessly and many more were seriously injured. The finding of the inquiry led to the Rail Safety Standards Board being set up, with many improvements being made in rail safety. Network Rail eventually owned up and pleaded guilty to charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
I was a member of the Muslim Council for Britain’s Legal Affairs Committee for a number of years. This was at a time when the government brought in swathes of anti-terror measures, such as Control Orders allowing internment without charge. A key feature of these measures was that they cut across basic human rights and disproportionately affected innocent Muslims. Our role was to unpick these measures and prepare the council’s response to these proposals. There was and continues to be a lack of awareness within the disparate Muslim communities about their basic rights. Post-Brexit, there appears to be greater intolerance towards ethnic and religious minorities. I am sure the Legal Affairs Committee continues to do important work that is vital for community cohesion.
If I could wish for a single change it would be for legal aid to be available to those who are unable to afford legal fees. The cuts in legal aid have led to advice deserts forming across the country. Many people suffering discrimination or the infringement of their employment rights are unable to seek legal recourse. We have a two-tier legal system where those that can afford it have access to justice.
The other change I would like would be the introduction of punitive damages in discrimination and whistleblowing cases to encourage behavioural changes within employers and organisations. Regrettably, I do not see either of these changes happening under the current government.