My parents answered the clarion call from the motherland to help build back post-war Britain and work in public services. They arrived from Jamaica as part of the Windrush migration as British Citizens* and undoubtedly faced manifold challenges, particularly in those early days in the 1960s.

Later, when my parents divorced and as the daughter of a single parent nurse, I grew up on a council estate in Hackney and determined when aged 7 to become a barrister. This may have been influenced by what I noticed around me on the estate – a sense of need for social justice which inspired me. There were some extremely difficult times but, on that estate, I answered back and at school, I stood up for others. I learned to be independent, strong and fearless – all qualities that I have utilised well at the Bar.

I held fast to that dream and the more I researched the career, the more it appealed to me. In my state comprehensive school, beset by funding issues, I remember being asked to slow down as my careers adviser took notes on how to qualify as a barrister, from me.

Eventually moving from the council estate to London Fields was a blessing and a resounding silver lining to the pressures we had endured. A voracious reader, I won a national prize, writing a letter to Martin Luther King. My passion for reading meant that I was able to flourish at school despite it going into special measures and sometimes being without teachers or other resources. I leant deeply into the words of my mother; that reading was the key to education.

My mother, often working around the clock, was a powerful orator, active in her trade union, striking for better terms and conditions for nurses. As a young teenager, I assisted her and colleagues to successfully appeal their nursing grades.

I recall compiling a detailed chart logging all the tasks she undertook at work. These were steps to ameliorate historic systemic disparities with Black nurses undertaking the work of senior nurses but not being paid at the applicable grade (which stemmed from both the prescriptive and restrictive nature of their recruitment during the Windrush era). I later appreciated, looking back, that this was my first employment law win. Hence the synergy of this year’s 75-year anniversary of both Windrush and the NHS resonates strongly with me, in the light of my mother’s 40-year nursing career. While my father sadly passed in 2017, my mother remains indefatigable as ever.

Role models were relatively hard to come by then, but I had the good fortune of being introduced to Courtenay Griffiths KC (before he took silk) when aged about 17. Later on, attending his silk’s party, the support and inspiration he gave in equal measure has been something I have endeavoured to give back throughout my career, to thank the many who have generously assisted me along the way. Despite facing numerous challenges, overcoming obstacles, such as rejection, builds a strength and resilience which I can attest, will serve you well during your career. Such as my appetite for appellate work stemming from my first early Court of Appeal group win, unled, and owed entirely to that fearlessness instilled within me.

At 20 I answered an advert in a newspaper to be trained by a national charity to help children in primary school improve their reading ability. I did not anticipate the effect I would have on the children. I thought they would be embarrassed to read with me – but they all wanted to come.

They did not know what a barrister did and why should they, but by the end of a few terms they were aspiring to various professional occupations. This was the perfectly grounding accompaniment to Bar School for me. When the head teacher astutely asked me to become a school governor, (placing me on front cover of the local magazine as the Borough’s youngest co-opted governor) this sparked an early passion for governance that has endured.

Giving back, is a gift to myself. I’ve learned vital insights from the impressive aspiring practitioners that I’ve mentored over the years. I particularly enjoy assisting the Bridging the Bar Programme through training on equality and diversity matters encountered at the Bar. My role as Co-Chair of the Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility committee in helping to facilitate initiatives, responding to consultation and advising on Bar Council policy under the auspices of access, retention and progression for women and underrepresented groups, helping to shift the dial in equality and diversity, is most rewarding. As is working with barristers from differing practice areas, other committee Chairs, stakeholders and meeting office holders such as the Director of Public Prosecutions, Attorney General etc. while taking the opportunity to discuss diversity generally.

My wide and varied practice with a theme of equality, (particularly in the financial sector) encompasses matters such as disability, fertility, pregnancy, maternity, race, equal pay and menopause. Pro bono work can be particularly rewarding, such as advice and advocacy given in an employment matter involving sexual trauma. I recently gave evidence in Parliament to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in the Inquiry into Human Rights at Work, alongside esteemed academics, debated the cab rank rule when speaking in Amsterdam at the Fédération des Barreaux d’Europe and attended the CSW 67 as a delegate for UN Women UK. The international facets and richness of my work at the Bar has undoubtedly led me to a variety of stimulating people and activities, from differing fields, with a compelling expansive opportunity for a wider reach.

My involvement with the arts (Chair of Talawa Theatre and member of Sadler’s Wells Development Council) has also traversed thematic issues of diversity as well as the opportunity to work with talented creative individuals. From a Board leadership perspective there was much to learn by helping to steer a theatre through the rigors of lockdown. I have also brought those insights gleaned to representing national arts institutions and performers, and recently presented to a senior group of Theatre and Arts Executive Directors on Gender Critical Theory.

Being elected a Bencher at Middle Temple in 2019 has exponentially increased my interactions with students. My advice to students is to take all the opportunities that present, to utilise their time at the Inn well, get involved and make connections. Attending courts and tribunals as often as you can, even outside the confines of a mini pupillage is useful, observing a variety of advocacy styles, and discerning what is effective. Becoming comfortable in these spaces will serve you well.

Hailing from an underrepresented group may undoubtedly make you stand out and if you are the only one in the room, to paraphrase the indomitable Shirley Chisholm, put your seat at the table – and then turn around and bring others into the room behind you. We can do this at whatever stage we are in our careers. I remain fully energised regarding the further ambitions I have for the next phase of my career. 

*Those arriving from Jamaica, prior to Jamaican independence in August 1962 were automatically granted Citizenship of the UK and Colonies.