Celebrating the Bar’s Black History: 2018

To mark Black History Month, Inner Temple showcased over 90 profiles of prominent Black and Asian members of the Inns from around the globe. Grace Brown reviews the inspiring exhibition

Was the display of short profiles of Black and Asian members of the Inns for Black History month worth a view? There are at least three good reasons why the answer is unquestionably ‘yes’. First, the exhibition served to highlight the contribution to the development of law made by Black and Asian members of the Inns – from H O Davies who was Called to the Bar in 1946 and, in 1951, founded the Nigerian People’s Congress, to Shirley Isabelle Miller QC who, Called in 1961, became the first Jamaican female QC in 1971.

Secondly, the display is a reminder, to all members of the Bar, that Black and Asian members of the Inns have not only been integral to the positive development and history of the Bar but continue to be so through individuals such as Desiree Artesi, Called in 1998 and legal adviser to the High Commission of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda who, in 2014 became a Bencher of the Inner Temple, and Katie Ghose, Called in 1996, Director of the British Institute of Human Rights (2005-2010). Finally, anyone who views the display cannot fail to be positively encouraged and inspired by the huge achievements and accomplishments of previous and current Black and Asian members of the Bar.

This year is a particularly important year to celebrate those achievements as it is 70 years since SS Empire Windrush docked at Tilbury Dock, an event that has been widely taken to mark the beginning of post-war mass migration of many citizens from Commonwealth countries; without which crucial migration the English legal system may not have benefited from the top-level contributions made by the likes of Leslie Thomas QC, Bobbie Cheema-Grubb QC and Martin Forde QC, all of whom were featured in the exhibition.

Grace Brown is a public law barrister at Garden Court Chambers.


Celebrating Black History at the Inns of Court

This is a small selection from the dazzling array of pioneers who challenged the social barriers of their time. The full exhibition can be viewed in booklet form at: bit.ly/innsbhm2018

Learie Constantine
(1902-1971)
Adm MT; Call 1954

Professional cricketer and the UK’s first black peer; Appointed MBE (1945); knighted (1962); Honorary Bencher of the Middle Temple (1963); Life Peerage (1969)

H O Davies
(1905-1989)
Adm MT; Call 1946

Founded the Nigerian People’s Congress (1951); Queen’s Counsel (1959); Federal Minister of State in the Ministry of Industries (1963-1966)

Mohandras Karamchand Ghandi
(1869-1948)
Adm IT; Call 1891

Leader of the Indian independence movement; disbarred following his conviction for sedition (1922); reinstated as a member of the Inner Temple (1988)

Cy Grant
(1919-2010)
Adm MT; Call 1950

Actor, musician and author, and first black person to appear regularly on British television; cofounder of Drum Arts Centre in London with the aim of helping to foster black artistic talent (1974)

Neils Walwin Holm
(1866-1927)
Adm LI; Call 1917

Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society (1897); retrained as a barrister (1910)

Annie Jiagge
(1918-1996)
Adm LI; Call 1950

Judge of High Court of Justice of Ghana (1961); Ghana representative UN Commission on Status of Women (1962); Court of Appeal judge (1969); President of Ghana’s Court of Appeal (1980); Ghana Constitution Drafting Committee (1991)

Samuel Olumuyiwa Jibowu
(1899-1959)
Adm MT; Call 1923

First African to serve as a judge; appointed Police Magistrate, Lagos (1931); High Court Judge (1942); Chief Justice (1957)

Hector Joseph
(1871-1936)
Adm LI; Call 1896

First black Jamaican to be appointed King’s Counsel (1911); Attorney General of Jamaica (1914) and British Guiana (1925)

Jawaharlal Nehru
(1889-1964)
Adm IT; Call 1912

First Prime Minister of India

Leila Seth
(1930-2017)
Adm LI; Call 1959

First woman to top the London Bar exams (1958); first woman judge of the Delhi High Court (1978); Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh (1991)

Cornelia Sorabji
(1866-1954)
Adm LI; Call 1923

First woman to read law at Oxford (1889); First woman to practise law in both India and Britain

Stella Thomas
(1906-1974)
Adm MT; Call 1933

Founding member of the League of Coloured Peoples; fi rst female barrister from West Africa (1933); first woman magistrate in Nigeria (1943)

Henry Sylvester Williams
(1869-1911)
Adm GI; Call 1902

Founding member of the Pan-African Association; first black man admitted to the Bar in the Cape Colony (1903)

Shyamaji Krishnavarma
(1857-1930)
Adm IT; Call 1884

Barrister and nationalist; disbarred for writing articles in support of Indian Home Rule (1909); reinstated as member of Inner Temple (2015)

Sir Edward Richards
(1908-1991)
Adm MT; Call 1946

Called to the Bermuda Bar (1947); Knighted (1971); First Premier of Bermuda (1971-1975)

Salma Sobhan
(1937-2003)
Adm LI; Call 1959

First woman barrister in Pakistan; pioneer of human rights activism in Bangladesh and founder of the organisation Ain o Salish Kendra (1986)

Tunji Sowande
(1912-1999)
Adm IT; Call 1956

First black Head of Chambers (1968); first black Deputy Circuit Judge (1978); Bencher of the Inner Temple (1986)

Christopher Sapara Williams
(1855-1915)
Adm IT; Call 1879

Appointed Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (1914); recommendation for King’s Counsel turned down – it was not until 1958 that QCs were appointed in Nigeria

Frances Wright
(1919-2010)
Adm GI; Call 1941
First Sierra Leonean woman to be Called to the Bar in England (1941); first woman to practise law in Sierra Leone
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Grace Brown

Public law barrister at Garden Court Chambers