Bates Wells & Braithwaite head of immigration Philip Trott has made a name for himself standing up for rappers’ rights
Unlike most lawyers, Philip Trott, head of immigration at London firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite, has seen his fair share of gun barrels during his career.
His most recent instruction came from rapper Busta Rhymes, who was arrested at gunpoint at London City Airport last month. Rhymes was welcomed into the UK by 15 armed police officers, who tore Trott away from his client.
Two High Court orders and 11 hours later, Rhymes was free to go and perform at the Orange RockCorps concert, which was laid on free for volunteer workers.
Trott has built his name and practice on that sort of swift action. His first rapper instruction came after 50 Cent was refused entry into the UK in 2005 because of his criminal record.
Trott received panicked phone calls from no fewer than five members of Cent’s entourage, including the rapper’s head of security. Cent was due to appear on television. Trott negotiated Cent’s release by arguing that his appearance would have a commercial benefit to the country.
Trott has developed his client base since that time. Now his bling-heavy list reads like a teenager’s iPod playlist, featuring names such as P Diddy and Snoop Dogg. “There’s never a dull moment,” he says.
Despite his frequent dealings with rappers, Trott confesses to not having listened to much of his clients’ music. But he does not think that the often controversial lyrics of his clients should have any bearing on whether they have a right to enter the country or not.
“It’s never come up as an issue,” he says. “It would be like having artistic censorship if lyrics were grounds for not letting people into the country.”
The Government and the police are Trott’s main opponents, and there is little love lost between him and them. He intends to lodge a complaint against the police for their heavy-handed treatment of Rhymes. But his next big piece of work will see him going toe-to-toe with the Government in the Court of Appeal on behalf of Snoop Dogg in November.
The rapper was arrested at gunpoint last year at Heathrow Airport after his 30-strong entourage was refused entry into the first-class lounge. The police were called, surrounding Dogg and his travel companions, eventually leading the rapper away in handcuffs.
“Some of Snoop’s security team are very, very big boys,” says Trott. “They exchanged words with the police to the effect of ‘don’t touch my boss’. There were guns, police and dogs.”
Eventually Trott managed to free Snoop from the clutches of the immigration officials, who appealed to a High Court judge. Trott won that case as well and now the officials are taking the case to the Court of Appeal. He believes that the Government is taking a hard stance against rappers coming into the UK to appear tough on immigration and win votes. But he says that approach is counterproductive.
“In terms of how rappers are treated, my own view is that it’s political,” explains Trott. “Snoop Dogg was going to give a presentation with [former Metropolitan Police chief] Sir Ian Blair against knife and gang crime. So it’s a bit of an own goal for the Government.”
Trott notes that ministerial intrusion into immigration cases has increased in recent years.
“It’s become more frequent with this particular Labour government,” he says. “They’re very concerned about appealing to Middle England, which is the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph.”
He adds: “In one sense we’ve become more fascistic in terms of immigration control.”
Trott may have problems dealing with immigration officials and the Government, but at least he has a network of clients referring him a constant stream of work at a time when most partners are busy trying to find work.
Trott has 99 problems, but a pitch ain’t one.
Philip Trott’s CV
1976: University of London LLB (Hons)
1977: College of Law, Law Society finals
1977-79: Trainee, Dale Parkinson and Lawford & Co
1982-88: Partner, Lawford & Co
1988-92: Partner, Thomson Snell & Passmore
1992-present: Partner, Bates Wells & Braithwaite