A number of the UK’s top barristers have shared their life stories and professional insights in the latest episodes of Women in the Law UK’s Talking Law podcast series. The most recent of these was Courtenay Griffiths QC, who discussed how early experiences of police racism growing up in Coventry inspired him to become a barrister.
In a wide-ranging interview, conducted by fellow barrister and founder of Women in the Law UK, Sally Penni, Dr Griffiths also talked about his defence of the former Liberian leader Charles Taylor on war crimes charges. Taylor’s trial at the Hague included accusations of atrocities carried out in Sierra Leone and, famously, an incident in which he was alleged to have given a package containing “blood diamonds” to the model Naomi Campbell.
Discussing the UK legal profession, Dr Griffiths went on to identify systemic issues that he believes hold black barristers back from being appointed to the judiciary. He said, “Most High Court judges are recruited from chambers doing commercial, chancery and that kind of work.
“But those are the very areas in the bar where black people aren’t being recruited. Most of the black people coming into the bar are doing legal aid work, family, crime and immigration, and not as many are succeeding into the commercial side of this profession.
“Those are the difficulties which are going to hinder the diversification of the higher courts in this country.”
Dr Griffiths will continue his interview with Sally Penni when he appears as the guest on a special Women in the Law UK webinar dedicated to the topic of “Why Black Lives Matter.” This webinar will take place via the Zoom platform at 6.00pm on Friday 3 July.
In the last month Talking Law has also featured Chris Daw QC – who specialises in crime, serious fraud, business, regulatory and professional discipline matters – and the property specialist Brie Stevens-Hoare QC. Last week’s episode featured an interview with Kirsty Brimelow QC, who talked about her journey from working class roots in post-industrial Lancashire to becoming the first ever female chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee.
Ms Brimelow practises out of Doughty Street Chambers, the chambers of the Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer. Speaking to Sally Penni, Ms Brimelow called on male colleagues in the legal profession to encourage gender diversity by refusing to sit on all-male panels at industry events and conferences.
She said, “These might just be small steps but it starts to get people thinking in a different way. That in itself will start to influence and affect the audiences there, and they’ll think, ‘Well if that person is doing that then maybe I could.’
The Talking Law series is available from Apple, Spotify and Google Podcasts, and it can also be streamed direct from the Women in the Law UK website. Launched in early 2019 Talking Law is the brainchild of host Sally Penni, who practises out of Kenworthy’s Chambers in Manchester and is vice chair of the Association of Women Barristers, and is produced by the former BBC Radio5Live presenter Sam Walker.
Talking Law, which was previously produced monthly, is now being produced to a weekly schedule for the duration of the Covid-19 crisis. Other recent interviewees include the barrister and TV personality Robert “Judge” Rinder, blogger and author The Secret Barrister and the businesswoman and campaigner Gina Miller.
Confirmed interviewees for future editions of the podcast include high-profile solicitors, barristers and other figures with an interest in the rule of law and access to justice, including Dame Tanni Grey-Thomson.
In addition to the Talking Law podcast, Women in the Law UK in normal times hosts events around the country featuring inspiring speakers and career development insights. For the duration of social distancing restrictions, however, it has replaced its face-to-face meetings with a programme of at least four webinars per week.
Women in the Law UK’s events are held under the Chatham House Rule, enabling speakers and audience members to speak freely and learn from each-other’s experiences in a confidential environment. Previous events have covered subjects including career progression, why lawyers need to sit on boards, how to network and make it work for you, and what lawyers can learn from inspiring businesswomen.
To book places at Women in the Law UK webinars readers should visit the organisation’s website or book directly via the eventbrite platform. Individuals and businesses that are interested in joining Women in the Law UK should email the organisation using the contact details on its website.