Susie Alegre

How did you get into law? Did you take it as a subject at university?

No. I did French and Philosophy. After my degree, I went to Spain for two years, first teaching English and then working as an interpreter and researcher at an international conflict resolution research centre based in San Sebastian, Gernika Gogoratez. As part of that work, I was a research assistant for a comparative project on the early release of politically motivated prisoners run by the Northern Ireland Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders. This was presented to Parliament as a contribution to the Northern Ireland peace process. As a result of this work, I decided that I wanted to study law with a view to being able to put human rights and conflict resolution theories into practice.

So you came back to London?

Yes. I got onto the last common professional examination course that was available. Then I did two years of straight study, following with the Bar Vocational Course.

Then what did you do?

I tried for pupillage but did not get it. Instead, I applied to do a ‘stage’ at the European Commission. I got this and it was accepted as my ‘second six’ months pupillage. So I did the ‘second six’, before the first. I followed the time at the Commission with a three month ‘stage’ at the Directorate of Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe before coming back to do my first six pupillage in London.

So, you would recommend the experience of stages to anyone wanting to develop a human rights career?

Yes, absolutely. And not necessarily just in human rights. Those tend to be oversubscribed but other areas of work can be very interesting and have considerable human rights implications. Both my stages were on international cooperation in criminal law and extradition.

And after pupillage…

Because I had got some experience with extradition law, I went to Raymond Buildings, a specialist international criminal law practice. I did a third ‘six’ there and then squatted. After 18 months, I took a break, doing some freelance translation; went to Mexico; travelled; set up a small NGO to help rural and indigenous people in Mexico and then, finally, came back to London.

To a job with us at JUSTICE.

Yes. I was working on the human rights implications of EU criminal justice developments, especially the European arrest warrant. I started just after 9/11 so it was an interesting time. There was a flurry of counter-terrorism initiatives in the EU. So, I did a lot of lobbying in the EU and the UK; research; interviews; public speaking; looking at implementation of EU policies here in the UK. I wrote a book together with Marisa Leaf who succeeded me in the post when I left. I was very lucky to work with great interns.

And after us…

I went to Amnesty International’s EU office in a new programme to focus on human rights in the EU. It was based in Brussels. I continued to work on criminal justice issues and the broader matters like the establishment of the Fundamental Rights Agency, discrimination and developments around the EU reform treaty. I also wrote a report on EU activities in counter-terrorism.

And from there?

I went to Warsaw to work for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in its Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR). This gave me the link in my work between human rights and counter-terrorism that I sought when I decided to be a lawyer.

So you enjoyed the OSCE?

Yes. I was working with really interesting and dedicated people. I really enjoyed working on the inside, talking directly to those involved in, and responsible for, counter-terrorism in places like Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

You did that for a couple of years?

Yes. I left at the end of my contract. I wanted to move on from Warsaw and to explore other regions and make better use my languages. I decided to become a freelance consultant which is what I had always wanted to do, so I decided to give it a go.

And what kind of work do you do?

A lot of training; justice capacity building in places like Rwanda and Turkey. Also policy and background publications. All for a range of organisations including the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the UN and NGOs.

So, very varied.

Yes. Very. Which is what I really love.

How do you think that the legal world has changed?

When I was studying and applying for pupillage, I was told that I should be doing EU competition law because I had French and Spanish. There was no need for languages in criminal law. In the last ten years, both criminal and human rights law have become increasingly international. Every country’s human rights and criminal justice system depends on the countries with which it co-operates. Law has become increasingly globalised and the range of work correspondingly broader. There is a lot of very interesting work to be explored.