My mother is a single parent of Nigerian and Kenyan descent, I grew up in Tottenham. There is something where parents from those backgrounds expect you to go into medicine, law, accountancy or an engineer. Every other job isn’t a job. I considered careers at an early age.
I wanted to be a doctor initially but was watching surgery scenes in Casualty and I decided that having someone’s life in your hands was too much responsibility. I was watching EastEnders and there was a court scene with white men in a wig. I asked my mum what they were and she said they were barristers and from then, that’s what I wanted to be.
I had a rebellious period when I finished GCSEs. I wanted to go to Oxbridge but didn’t do as well as I was predicted. I applied to Russell Group universities and got rejected. I went to Reading hoping to get a first but got a 2:1 and thought I wouldn’t get into the Bar.
I applied for scholarships, as the BPTC was £15,000. We lived in social housing – my mum didn’t even own have a car – so there was no way I could afford the course. I didn’t get it. I took a gap year, but it wasn’t a ‘gap yah’ in the normal sense. I was on Job Seekers Allowance while applying for jobs in the aftermath of the 2008 recession.
I applied again and got a scholarship. I was awarded the Lord Denning Scholarship from Lincoln’s Inn and the Hardwicke Entrance Award, I was also awarded the Sunley Scholarship from Lincoln’s Inn during pupilage. It took me three years to get pupillage when I completed my BPTC. I got pupillage in the year I completed the BPTC.
Pupillage was difficult for me. Having the spotlight on you is hard and being a Black woman in a place where there aren’t many people like you is also difficult. It felt extremely isolating. I had imposter syndrome. I moved to Garden Court five years in February 2020.
When I was at university lots of people decided to go down the solicitor route because becoming a barrister is hard – especially when you are Black. There are financial hurdles; however, the BSB statistics show that you are twice as likely to obtain pupillage as a white person than as an ethnic minority, even when your educational attainment is similar. This is a problem that the Bar must tackle by looking at its own recruitment practices, pupillage committee memberships and ensuring that appropriate training and personal work is done by individuals on anti-racism and unconscious bias.
I didn’t have any role models, I didn’t know many any Black barristers that were visible. It is problematic. Luckily for me, that did not stop me from coming to the Bar as my mother told me that the world was my oyster and I could be whatever I wanted to be if I worked hard for it.
I have worked on a lot of social mobility projects to show people that someone like me can be a barrister. I was one of the first tranches of the Social Mobility Advocates for the Bar Council in 2018, and I spoke at a number of events, including the Pupillage Fair in 2018 and 2019, and a live stream event with the Secret Barrister, Chris Dawe QC and Rachel Spearing in 2018, in order to encourage people with a similar background to mine to consider the Bar.
I was featured in The Times newspaper article called “The Changing Face of the Modern Bar” in 2018 and I am in the Bar Council’s social mobility video. I appeared on Channel 5 News talking about social mobility. I have also spoken at schools and universities. In 2019, I set up the Black Barristers’ Network with Mavis Amonoo-Acquah. The core mission is to promote the growth of Black barristers through support, visibility and community outreach. One of the reasons why we set up the Black Barristers Network was to increase the visibility of Black barristers. We want people to see us out there. At the moment, my attention is on issues of racism within our profession.
We have all experienced being mistaken for a defendant; sometimes it is subtle and sometimes it repetitive. When Black barristers have spoken about it in the past we haven’t been listened to. I am appalled by some of the responses from the public after Alexandra Wilson spoke about her experience. People saying it didn’t happen or it happened because of her age but not it’s because of her skin; it puts off others from speaking out. Some people haven’t spoken about it because it is traumatic. Perhaps that is their intention – to silence us.
There are many other issues that we face. Work allocation is a big problem. We need high-quality work in order to progress in our careers, become ranked as leaders in our fields and apply to become a QC or a judge. Only 1.1 per cent of QCs are Black. That is appalling.
I believe there is racial bias in the way in which work is allocated, either through chambers or by solicitors. I also believe racism may play a part in the appointment of QCs and judges. In addition, the microaggressions we experience in and outside of chambers, the rude, patronising and inappropriate treatment from opponents and judges at court, are things the Bar need to address.
I sit on the Bar Council and I am on the Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility Committee. I also sit on the Bar Modernisation Working Group and the Race Working Group. I have spoken out about racism at the Bar in various events including the Lincoln’s Inn EDI Forum in June 2020 and the Legal Services Board Stakeholder Summit on 24 September 2020. Finally, people are starting to listen and hopefully change will come.