I came to the Bar, having worked briefly in finance after university to help pay student debts, in order to be a criminal barrister. I was very focused on this and it was crime that I wanted to concentrate on. I was fortunate to be a pupil and later a tenant at QEBHW and at Apex Chambers in Cardiff. My practice was primarily criminal and disciplinary with a niche practice in sports law.
One of my key clients was the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) whom I had represented in disciplinary panel and licensing committee cases, as well as providing ad hoc legal advice when required. Initially I helped to cover the Head of Regulation role at the BHA in December 2016 while they recruited but found myself thoroughly enjoying the diverse aspects of the position, from managing a team (a new challenge for me) to implementing change. My daughters were born in September 2016 so the pull of financial stability was appealing, as well as being able to focus on sport both in law and the wider regulatory issues. Sadly, the financial impact of practising in crime has affected us all and I had to look elsewhere. I still try to stay connected to criminal practice through my pro bono work for the Cardiff University Innocence Project. However, it was great to take on a new challenge. I have always been a keen sportsman, playing, spectating and coaching and it is amazing to be able to work in sport in my professional life.
I became the Director of Integrity and Regulation in October 2018 and I am responsible for managing the Legal Regulation and Integrity teams at the BHA. This includes the live monitoring of horse racing and the betting markets as well as investigating any potential corruption, anti-doping or other integrity concerns. My teams advise various teams across the BHA including our safeguarding function. I am also a member of the Executive team which is responsible for managing the organisation as a whole, including the various facets of work that a major governing body of a sport has to cover. This includes liaison with our international federation, the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities.
The transition to the employed Bar was made easier by both the support of my previous chambers and key mentors and colleagues there, but also the working practices and support within the BHA. Jamie Stier and Brant Dunshea (BHA Chief Regulatory Officers during my time at the BHA) have always supported my flexible working which was important to me. It would have been a significant shock to move from independent practice into a rigid corporate 9-5 environment but the BHA is far from that. The hours are often still long, especially as racing is pretty much ongoing every day of the year, and the issues arise quickly and often but that is what makes it such an exciting sport to work in.
I miss my friends and colleagues in chambers and the support structure of the robing room in crime, but I have a great team at the BHA and fantastic new colleagues. The organisation is non-profit as you would expect for a governing body and therefore resources are often tight. In order to achieve what it does, the organisation has to work as a close-knit team and the sense of a common purpose is wonderful. Teamwork is absolutely embedded in my role, and central to everything we do at the BHA. I am very fortunate to have a team of committed, skilled and passionate people who work incredibly hard for the sport. It is one of the many aspects that drew me to make the decision to work here full time.
To anyone thinking of moving to the employed Bar, I would advise them to take the time to consider it. Ultimately, if it is not for you, there is nothing stopping you returning to chambers. Times have changed and we are all working in a variety of ways. There are experiences, particularly outside of a strictly legal practice that are not available at the self-employed Bar and if you are interested in these, sometimes it is worth just giving it a go. I am now a Director at the BHA as well as a non-executive Director at the Football Association of Wales and I have a wide range of potential career options ahead of me. Equally, I retain links with the self-employed Bar and could always go back. Moving to the BHA has created a myriad of opportunities for me yet an employed practice has not closed off doors.
The most rewarding aspect has been being able to see the difference that your work makes to the sport. This is something you don’t often get to do in self-employed work. We have modernised (ie rewritten and digitised) the Rules of Racing, changed working practices, improved the disciplinary function,presented complex and difficult cases before the new independent Disciplinary Panel, and advised on serious and crucial safeguarding matters. Intellectually, it is fascinating to piece together the hundreds of regulations, instructions, directions and procedures that are required for what should be, on a basic level, a fairly straightforward athletic competition between thoroughbred horses. I love the debates around integrity and how changing or tweaking just small parts of what is a very complex activity can have profound changes and benefits.
At the Executive level, we have guided and directed the sport through incredibly difficult times (especially the global pandemic) and I am proud of that. The most challenging aspect is that there is no real let up. It is a sport that has passionate participants and spectators. It is ongoing, all year round. Often people have strong views and opinions and might not like certain regulatory decisions or actions. Managing those different opinions and expectations is not always easy, nor is having every decision debated and discussed in the media on a daily basis. We have a responsibility to the sport, however, as the governing body and we take that incredibly seriously.
There is always more we can do. The current situation has put the sport and its participants under considerable strain both financially and in terms of physical and mental wellbeing. Recent events have also highlighted the need to look hard at ourselves, our approach to diversity and inclusion and our responsibility here. Working as an employed barrister gives me an opportunity and a platform, hopefully, to work to make change which might not have been open to me at the Bar.
Coronavirus has forced us all to work differently including the use of remote communication technology. It is difficult now to think we will return to the frequent long travel for physical meetings when these can be accomplished, in most cases, remotely. This has benefits for our wellbeing as individuals, financially for organisations and also importantly for our physical environment. We are also now moving to an almost entirely paperless disciplinary system and I am going to push to continue this.
This award reflects the hard work of the team as a whole at the BHA. They have driven so much change over the last few years and modernised aspects of what is clearly a very traditional sport. I would like to think that this is a well deserved recognition for them and what they have achieved. Lawyers in sports’ governing bodies do not often get much attention (deliberately so most of the time!) and I am glad that the hard work has been acknowledged.
Published on 30 July 2020. Click here to read about all the Bar Council Employed Bar Award Winners 2020.