Did you study law at university?
Brought up in Trinidad, I left behind a place to study law at the University of the West Indies to take up a scholarship to study a BA in Environmental Studies and Geography in the US. A move that might have been regarded frivolous, I was attracted to the idea of travel and the chance to live and study in another country. The course also involved a foreign study programme where I got the opportunity to spend one term studying environmental studies in association with the University of Nairobi in Kenya and another studying geography in association with Karlova University.
Why did you return to law?
My studies of the environment and geography actually deepened my interest in law. I became particularly interested in the consequences of large-scale regulation and legislation, and the impact of large projects upon people. I also did my Honours Thesis in Discrimination and Affirmative Action. So, although following my BA I worked for a year in Boston as a business consultant, I jumped at the opportunity to come to the UK to study jurisprudence at Oxford when I was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship.
Did you hesitate about the choice between barrister and solicitor?
I was attracted to the independence of the Bar and the potential when self-employed to be more in control of your work. Although the lines between the two professions have become increasingly blurred, I thought that the Bar had more scope for intellectual stimulation. In reality it has suited my personality and has enabled me to have a broad practice without having to specialise as early as you may be required to do as a solicitor.
It is also perhaps more capable of accommodating a move back into academia?
That would be the dream: to combine academia and the Bar. However, it is practically unrealistic at the moment. Actually, the beauty of CPD requirements for me is that you have a reason to keep up that academic interest by regularly attending a range of lectures.
How did you arrive at One Crown Office Row?
From Oxford, I went straight onto the BVC and completed my pupillage at Blackstone Chambers. It was a good experience – very hard work but you would expect it to be. I didn’t get offered a tenancy but I did a third six at One Crown Office Row and secured tenancy there. Entering the Bar in England and Wales was initially daunting and during the BVC and pupillage I think I suffered a lack of confidence. However, missing out on tenancy first time round was undoubtedly a good thing for me as it made me realise how much I wanted it, which I think after a good first degree and a successful time on the BVC is one of the most important attributes you need to make it as a barrister.
Would that be your advice to students wanting to enter the profession then?
Yes, I think that if you really commit yourself to succeeding, then you do have a very good chance of doing well. But you must be completely committed as the Bar is becoming increasingly competitive, both to get pupillage and then to get tenancy.
Do you think there is a value in taking up another job or work experience prior to entering the profession?
Applicants now have more on their CVs than an undergraduate degree alone. But doing something else first is good for one’s personal development anyway. I completed a number of internships along the way to where I am now. One was with the Global Education Forum, through which I was able to attend a UN conference for NGOs whilst I was at Oxford. To gain experience outside of academia and to develop a real, practical interest in the legal issues will help you know for certain it is what you really want to do.
How did you become interested in human rights specifically?
Initially through my environmental studies but my interest crystallised during the foreign study programme I completed in Kenya as part of my first degree. I would say I am not a pure environmentalist in that I take a different view of the issues from the standard one. I am more concerned with the impact external forces and environmental campaigners have on indigenous groups. Of course, I recognise the increasing importance of protecting the environment and sustainable living, but I am also keen to take into account the rights of indigenous people. Thus while the western idea is to protect the environment, the focus for those in other parts of the world is how the land and environment can be utilised for their livelihood and survival. The experience of seeing this attitude first hand while visiting indigenous groups in Kenya got me thinking about competing rights.
Then, I was studying law at the time the Human Rights Act was coming into force. That was an exciting time for human rights in the UK and it was inspiring to be around tutors such as Professor Sandra Fredman who were very involved in the process.
Would you like to increase your human rights practice?
Of course. My practice currently contains aspects of human rights. For example, inquests will engage the Article 2 right to life, GMC cases will involve the Article 8 right to privacy and immigration and prison cases involve a range of rights including Articles 2, 3, 5, and 8. But I am still waiting for that one big case that centres primarily on a human rights issue.
I do think it is unrealistic for those entering the profession to think that you can have a purely human rights practice. Human rights touches upon many areas of law, and so you are more likely to develop a human rights practice alongside public, civil or criminal work.
One area you specialise in, understandably given your studies, is environmental law. Is there scope for an overlap between that and human rights?
Most environmental cases do not typically involve human rights although noise pollution cases can engage Article 8. There could be scope for an overlap to increase however; Fadeyeva v Russia, a decision of the European Court of Human Rights, may filter down to everyday UK cases.
You have also spent six months as a barrister witness in the Robert Hamill Inquiry, what was that like?
This involved examining and gathering evidence in the earlier stages of the inquiry. What is interesting about these inquiries in Northern Ireland is that in spite of them, the region is still volatile and there is still a long way to go. It was a good experience for my development as a barrister, but it leads one to question whether these costly inquiries, where practical sanctions are non-existent, are a proportionate response, although certainly they can have great symbolic value.
You are on the Council and Executive Board of JUSTICE and are also Chair of the JSHRN, what motivated you to get involved?
I was approached to be on JUSTICE Council, and it was something that I had wanted to do for a while. I was involved in JUSTICE around the time that the JSHRN was still being developed as an idea and I wanted to be a part of it because I am interested in potential members of the Bar and the legal profession more generally. I am one of the sponsors at Lincoln’s Inn for those contemplating a career at the Bar. This essentially involves mentoring a student who is doing the BVC or who is looking for pupillage and providing support and advice to them as to how to enter the Bar. The Bar can be a lonely place to begin with, especially if you don’t have links within the profession, and so it is important to encourage students and create networks so they can meet other like-minded students and practitioners. I am always impressed by the talent and enthusiasm of those members that attend our JSHRN conferences. It is refreshing to meet those for whom human rights is still very much a live issue up for discussion.