My entry into the Bar was unexpected, unplanned and an astonishing privilege. I was 39 when I went to university. People ‘like me’ didn’t head to uni on finishing school in our teens; we went to work – any work. (Actually, I managed to avoid school from about 14 years old.)

By my mid-20s, and a single mum, my career had surprisingly evolved quite well within the travel industry. As a tour operators’ long-haul buyer of airline seats and hotels in the far-flung corners of the globe, I met so many people from across the exciting cultures of the world; saw first-hand most of the greatest sights nature and humans have ever created. I also saw inequality, poverty, child sickness and abuse; cruel cultural divides and inhumane practices – particularly when working in parts of Africa, India and even Australia. My task was to create commercially effective and credible relationships in the long-haul travel industry from the post-Laker era of the ‘70s, right through to the mass tourism saturation levels of the 90s.

Interestingly, the more successfully my job was performed, the greater the damage done to the countries tourism was opening up. In a decade and a half, I saw rich cultural diversity swiftly turn into a homogeneity of fish ‘n chips for all – even in the Seychelles!

By then I was mum to four children, excruciatingly uneducated and bursting to use my practical skills and experiences in a more value driven way. I cared about the vulnerable across all societies; exploitation and abuse had to be called out… it really wasn’t being factored into how the travel industry rolled in the 90s. I certainly have never claimed to be an aspiring Joan of Arc for morality in global business, but my increasing desire to at least minimise some of the harms done set me thinking – about education. Apart from some very stimulating Open University courses taken during maternity leaves, I had no educational credentials.

On the pretext of doing a dry run for my son, I applied to the University of Oxford to read jurisprudence. After all, all experience is a bonus; you don’t only pursue the achievable – you must stretch further to explore what you might be capable of. Oxford offered me a place – that was not the plan! But it would have been rude to refuse, so in 1995 me and the four children moved from Sussex to Oxfordshire. I’ll save the journey of Oxford study, Bar school, pupillage and childcare costs for another day; save to say that I travelled further than ever before.

My experiences as a barrister over the last 24 years have borne the greatest imaginable fruits for me – and I hope for a few others along the way. There have also been some very difficult prices paid, but the personal sense of achievement, relevance and purpose have hugely outweighed the hardships.

After pupillage (aged 41) and new practitioner experience with Hollis Whiteman, and a quick spell as a prosecutor for Crown Prosecution Service in Oxford, from 2004 I was an employed barrister at CPS HQ in the Policy Directorate. I qualified as a higher court advocate and held the national strategic lead for prosecution policy in cases involving scientific evidence, expert witnesses and, for a few years, disclosure. In this role I also (this is the unique bit) became a legal adviser in the Attorney General’s Office. I was responsible for briefing, supporting, and advising both the AG and the Director of Public Prosecutions on portfolio topics. Quite a challenge!

As an employed barrister I was able to strongly influence policy development and practices within the criminal justice system that facilitated compassion and supportive pathways where needed. I regularly worked with Ministers and their senior advisers at the Home Office, senior members of the criminal justice system at the Ministry of Justice, the then Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Judiciary at all levels including the Lord Chief Justice, Master of the Rolls and Senior Presiding Judges, leading academics and worked closely with the Law Commission and the (then new) Criminal Procedure Rules Committee. On secondment to the CPSI & HMIC Joint Inspectorates Review of the first Domestic Abuse Policy implementation I contributed to the chapter ‘Hearing Children’s Voices’. I was immensely humbled to receive a lifetime achievement award from ACPO’s Investigating Child Deaths Committee for my work in creating the NAHI (non accidental head injury cases) Prosecution Guidance.

For over two decades I specialised in the use of forensic science within criminal justice systems in the UK, Europe and internationally. I gave oral and written evidence at Parliamentary Select Committee inquiries and was a member of the cross-government group responsible for the creation of the office of the Forensic Science Regulator. I became Chair of the DNA Specialist Working Group established by the Forensic Science Regulator; a member of the Home Office Forensic Science Transition Board (protecting the criminal justice system from the impact of closing the Forencic Science Service); became the legal adviser member of the Home Secretary’s Pathology Delivery Board; a member of the ACPO Forensic Science Portfolio Board and involved in a number of Metropolitan Police and ACPO ‘Gold Group’ Strategic Reviews looking at the forensic science issues arising from very high profile cases (think Rachel Nickell, Damilola Taylor, Stephen Lawrence, Milly Dowler, Joanna Yeates, Jill Dando et al.).

I was elected to the General Council of the Bar in 2002 and later served as Joint Chair of the Employed Barristers’ Committee, and on the precursor to the Bar Standards Board. The best bit was creating the ‘One Bar – Many Professions’ slogan. For some years I worked alongside leaders of the legal professions’ representative and regulatory bodies on overarching strategy, professional disciplinary issues and quality standards.

Of course, I also continued to appear in court – which I loved most of all. Advocacy in the criminal courts reminds me of diamonds – takes so, so long to prepare, but priceless when delivered well.

And now? Well, I have to confess to being something of an angry WASPI. September saw my 65th birthday, and unlike many fellow barristers, I cannot continue to practise as I would choose to as I have an unpredictable autoimmune health condition (Lupus) that means I am not always well enough to make court appearances (per the BSB requirement to prioritise above all else). While I never aspired to become a ‘fat cat’, I can’t help wondering what it would have been like… particularly when working on my next pro-bono domestic abuse case.

Also – and this is my big ‘coming out’ moment – I have recently been astonished to be diagnosed by the NHS as a significantly neurodiverse person. Who knew what the baby-boomer, post-war stiff upper lips concealed! But at least this has helped me to understand and better accept not only myself, but more importantly, so many others caught in difficult situations where they struggle to communicate; or to understand the world around them. As a self-employed barrister, many of my clients displayed the ever-familiar confusion and disruptive behaviours of neurodiversity – especially in the Youth Courts and later, the children of families for whom abuse in many forms was the norm.

Why am I telling you all this? My hope is that at least one person will read this and think: ‘The Bar is not exclusively for the privileged or the well connected, or the clones.’ It really can be the career of choice for strong minded individuals who have a passion. As I retire (albeit without a pension), I wish you all – especially colleagues over the years who have shown me such kindness, support and encouragement – the most satisfying career imaginable.

And there’s more to say; but my word limit is already exceeded.