Shaheen Rahman

You are a junior at One Crown Office Row, a well-respected set of chambers in public law and medical negligence. How did you arrive here?

I did pupillage here and was then offered a tenancy. I had read English at university – at Birmingham. It was my best subject at school and I enjoyed – and enjoy – reading. It was a good subject to take. A good proportion of the Bar have first degrees other than in law. I don’t think that doing law at university gives you much of an advantage though clearly a law degree will allow you to cover more subjects in detail. But doing another subject at degree level can give you other advantages. For example, your writing style and analytical skills may be well developed if you have done a first degree in some other subject in the humanities.

Why did you change from English?

I wanted to be a barrister. I thought it would be a challenging job. I was quite good at debating and public speaking at school.

You did the conversion course, the CPE?

Yes. This gives you a fairly basic grounding in the law, as it is only a year-long course. In those days – the mid 1990s – human rights were not taught on the course. I have to say I did not find it particularly academically interesting, but have become more interested in the law as I have got into practice – it comes alive when you start using it to win cases. More important in getting my interest were the mini-pupillages.

Mini-pupillages were really important?

Yes. Very. They are also almost expected of applicants for pupillage. The arrangements are all much more professional than when I applied and there are formal application processes. It is also more competitive. The applicants just seem to get better and better. But they are really important to do. They give you experience of what a barrister’s day-to-day life is actually like. They can also form a link between you and the chambers that could be helpful when it comes to applying for pupillage.

How did you enjoy your pupillage?

Pupillage was very hard work and it is like a year long interview. I was very relieved to be taken on. Once I started as a tenant it was far more enjoyable. When I first stated we just did the occasional road traffic case about once a week. It was quite fun and actually rather relaxing. Quite early on, I started doing work for the government – permission hearings in judicial review cases, which was very valuable as it gave you experience in front of high court judges. That was when I first did cases that involved human rights as the Human Rights Act 1998 had only recently come into force. Since then I’ve found that human rights arguments have come up in all sorts of cases – sometimes in unexpected jurisdictions. For example, I’ve used Article 6 arguments on the right to a fair trial at disciplinary hearings in the General Medical Council. Increasingly, tribunals and the lower courts are more open and familiar with legal arguments involving the Human Rights Act.

What kind of work do you do?

Public law, clinical negligence and professional disciplinary work. I have recently been working on some judicial review challenges to healthcare arrangements in prison. This involves using both the Human Rights Act and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. I’ve also spent a lot of time acting as a special advocate in control order cases.

How do you find that role?

Difficult. You have access to the confidential national security case which cannot be disclosed to your client. You generally cannot see your client once you have seen the material. It is obviously difficult to have a fair trial if you do not know the whole case against you. One of the main jobs of a special advocate is to get as much material as possible disclosed to the client. The courts have been rather good at seeking to make the process as fair as possible but it is a far from perfect system.

How could the role be improved?

I think lawyers could be trusted more – certainly in allowing the special advocate to go back to the client once they have seen the confidential evidence and getting instructions, to increase the prospects of a fair trial and the controllee being able to meaningfully respond to the case against him. I found meeting those actually subject to control orders quite powerful. I was not prepared for how adversely they are affected. But everything from where you live to where you are allowed to go and who you see can be controlled – so it drastically reduces quality of life.

You clearly enjoy being a barrister. Are you worried about the future of the Bar?

Not on the civil side. I know the pressures on those doing criminal work but, in civil, I think the Bar is still expanding. We are still generally taking on tenants. My sense is that other sets are as well. It is more competitive than when I started. But, if you are in good chambers, you can have a good career. People will look after you.