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The Society of Black Lawyers (SBL) is only the last in a long line of community and voluntary organisations to challenge colonialism and racism in the United Kingdom. The historical position is that the Judges and the courts in the United Kingdom played a central role in the maintenance of slavery and colonialism despite the Somerset case. It is therefore no wonder that there should have been a cultural reluctance to admit that racism was an intrinsic although sometimes subtle part of the British judicial history.

Our First Lawyers

In 1854 John Thorpe, a Sierra Leonean, became the first barrister of African descent to be called to the Bar and Monmohon Ghosh in 1864, the first person of Indian descent to be called to the Bar, with John Mensah Sarbah, was the first Ghanaian called to the Bar in 1887. Black Lawyers and law students were instrumental in the formation of the Pan African Congress established in London in 1900, which made a significant impact on the anti colonial struggle against the British Empire. Barristers such as Ernest and Frederick Durham helped found the African Society and together with the renowned Sylvester Williams held the first Pan African Congress in London in July 1900.

The former MP supported the Pan African Congress for Battersea Dadabhai Naoroji, one of the first instances of African/Asian solidarity in the UK. The militant African Review and Orient Review stated,

“ Your day is coming, Your place in the sun has been and will come again….The future of Africa, the future of India, will not be decided in the Chancelleries of Europe, but upon the hills of India and the plains of Africa “. 
(July 1912).

In 1913 barristers were unable to dine at Gray’s Inn with their white counterparts with no objections being recorded from any benchers. The race riots in 1919 in South Shields, Liverpool, Cardiff and Bristol saw members of the Judiciary incarcerate large numbers of British African, Caribbean and Asian ex serviceman and women and their families. Many were deported back to the Caribbean and India when they tried to challenge the British establishment.

In 1921 the most radical Pan African Congress was attended by W.B. Du Bois, Dr John Alcindor and J.R. Archer were remarkably outspoken in their condemnation of imperialism and racism. The West African Students Union led by Laipo Solanke, called to the Middle Temple in 1917, formed in 1925, was attended by 21 law students who later became famous as judges, magistrates, barristers and politicians around the colonial world.

In 1928 Mahatma Gandhi, together with Jawalarl Nehru (the former having been expelled from South Africa for his activism and agitation about working conditions in the Johannesburg goldfields) were both then disbarred from the Middle Temple for their “agitation” against British colonial rule in India. Krishna Menon, practiced as a barrister in London after being called to the Bar in 1927 and led the struggle with the politician Saklatvala for the end of British rule in India through the India League becoming India primary delegate to the United Nations after the second world war. After their deaths their were both posthumously re admitted to the Middle Temple where their portraits are still the only BME barristers on display

The Pan African Congress In Manchester in 1945 became central to the anti colonial struggle and brought together such legendary figures as George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, C.L.R. James, Ras Makonnenen and I.T.A Wallace. The declarations were impressive for their simplicity and radicalism,

“We are determined to be free… We are unwilling to starve any longer while doing the world’s drudgery, in order to support by our poverty and ignorance a false aristocracy and a discredited Imperialism”.

African, Caribbean and Asian lawyers played a key role in the struggle against British colonialism and imperialism at home and in the UK. The Jamaican lawyer Michael Manley came to the UK to represent some Jamaican defendants after the Second World War. In the late 1960’s Rudy Narayan, originally from Guyana organised legal advice clinics in Brixton and Notting Hill alongside the Caribbean Times. Joined by Sigbat Kadri they formed the Society of Immigrant Lawyers, becoming the Society of Commonwealth Lawyers and finally the Society of Black Lawyers in 1973.

Post War Advocacy and Civil Rights

The 1960’s saw solicitors barred from qualifying unless they had achieved British citizenship. By 1979 the Royal Commission of Legal Services, the Benson Commission highlighted the under representation of African and Asian lawyers within the legal profession. Rudy Narayan rapidly became a household name with a powerful style of advocacy famously accusing the Attorney General of racism in the Thornton Heath murder case of 1979. In 1984 he bravely claimed there was a conspiracy by Birmingham Judges to prevent him practicing and at one of his several disciplinary hearing before the Bar Council there was actually a letter from the Birmingham Judiciary to the Lord Chancellor effectively asking for him to be banned! That case against him had to be dropped!

The trials arguing “community self defence” after attacks by the National Front in Bradford, the “Bradford Twelve” and the “Mangrove 9” trials involving Frank Critchlow passed into legal legend. In 1985 a group of largely African barristers successfully defended a large group of Rastafarians and Pan Africans who had broken into the British Museum to “liberate” various African antiquities but who were convicted only one person for taking some books on physics! The founders of the SBL Rudy and Sigbat led the charge often with a whole row of African, Caribbean and Asian barristers successfully fighting for their clients. Rudy claimed that it often felt he “had one foot in the dock and one foot at the Bar”.

Their argument supported by an all white jury was that they could not steal goods that were theirs by right! Rudy established the right to have a Judge recused for racial discrimination after a case before the Birmingham Employment Tribunal where he was threatened with being disbarred for doing so. An agreement was reached between the Bar Council and the then Commission for Racial Equality in 1989 providing for such an application to be made without the barrister or solicitor facing disciplinary proceedings for making the application.

The Benson Commission on the Legal Profession recognised in 1979 held that there was systematic discrimination and that many BME solicitors and barristers could not gain entry into the profession. In 1982 proposals were formulated to create a Bar Race Relations Committee to address issues of discrimination. The Bar Race Relations Committee was formed shortly after wards, followed closely by the Law Society Race Committee. Lord Gifford and Jocelyn Gibbs were amongst those who advocated for change. The Brixton, Handsworth and Liverpool 8 uprisings of 1981 led to the report by Lord Scarman with defence campaigns being led by Rudy Narayan, Sigbat Kadri and others. At the Bar school in 1980 there were approximately 60 BME barristers seeking pupillage with many facing serious discrimination and sexism. Trainee solicitors seeking a training contract faced similar problems with some taking years to obtain a contract.

In 1985 SBL played a key role in the Handsworth Defence Campaign in Birmingham with barristers Michael Hall playing a leading roe in challenging the racism of the Birmingham magistrates in a case called Akpabio. Mr Akpabio was the first person given a community sentence after an unjust conviction when barrister Peter Herbert challenged the bench to sentence him to imprisonment. They backed down but issued a press release saying that they treated “our coloured people” very fairly in Birmingham”. A request was sent by the SBL Chair William Panton to the African National Congress (ANC) which led to the late Nelson Mandela agreeing to be the patron of the SBL. The SBL Committee had the benefit of ANC member Martin Mabilitsa providing a crucial link to the liberation movements of Southern Africa throughout this turbulent period.

In 1986 the pictures of the Soweto uprising, the photos of the shooting of black teenager Hector Pieterson rang out around the world was accompanied by massive repression by the apartheid Government of South Africa. SBL demonstrated outside the South African Embassy joined by Platts Mills Q.C., solicitor Michael Reid, Joy Okoye, Tanoo Mylvaganam, Anesta Weekes Q.C. and many others. There were several of us like barrister, Delano Bart, who were quite scared of being arrested but we are all very safe in the end. Our protest led to an official compliant being lodged by the then South African Ambassador to the UK Foreign Office so it had worked and been noted.

SBL worked with the “Lawyers against Apartheid” group to place mounting pressure on the Bar and the Law Society who eventually agreed to de invest in South Africa. The then Attorney General, Sir Patrick Mayhew called Peter Herbert in Chambers directly to try, unsuccessfully, to persuade him to drop the motion at the Bar AGM supporting the Soweto uprising. He was told that to suggest as he did that, “saying imprisoning 14,000 children might sometimes be necessary” was not a sentiment we were unimpressed with let alone the media.

In 1989 SBL members took part in a series of Public Order cases in Liverpool, which were won challenging the racial profiling of policing in Liverpool where galleries of the local community were kept in Hope Street and Admiral Street police stations. The three defendants, Stephen Nze, Peter Thomas, and Leslie Thomas subsequently took stage at the annual SBL conference. Liverpool 8 Law Centre provided an enormous welcome from Solomon Bassey, Peter Bassey, Maria O’Reilly and Maneh Brown amongst many others in the community. In the years that followed that connection with SBL was maintained with many members of the local community obtaining significant damages from the Merseyside Police with the assistance of Elkan Abrahamson and other radical local solicitors. At the time there were no African, Caribbean or Asian barristers working in Liverpool. SBL member Nigel Fraser gave a brilliant defence speech telling the jury that he himself was from the Handsworth ghetto in Birmingham, and the first of his brothers not to end up in a life of crime but to go to University and become a barrister. The jury was reminded of Liverpool’s history of slavery, asked to consider the exemplary and poignant story of John Demerette, a Liverpuddlian, St Lucian amputee and veteran of the Third battle of Ypres prevented form dining at the Belmont Hospital protected by white and black soldiers. Demerette was discharged from the British army and blamed for the insurrection that followed and only recognised as a victim of hate crime years later. The all white jury wept and acquitted all three defendants to the anger of the Presiding Judge of Liverpool, HHJ Wickham who ordered riot police to wait outside Court to arrest anyone making a disturbance. Defence witnesses included the veteran Labour campaigner, Sir Lady Simy, who spoke eloquently of police racism. Lord Gifford’s report on policing in Liverpool provided the backdrop to the case, with the celebrated poet Benjamin Zephaniah providing the entertainment at the victory party.

The SBL obtained funding and established a small office in the Brixton Enterprise Centre with a director and part time administrator before moving several years later to a new office in Stockwell. SBL grew to prominence with regular media appearances of members on Question Time, newsnight and a whole range of national and international print journals. Former Chair Chris Boothman and Employment Judge Christiana Hyde (her current title) produced a BBC2 documentary on the racism in the criminal justice system aired on BBC2 in 1988.

In October of that year SBL sent 23 delegates, including Rudy Narayan, Nicola Williams, the late barrister Sandra Graham and many others to participate in the National Conference for Black Lawyers annual meeting held at Howard University, Washington DC. We were entertained at Blues Alley in Georgetown by the late legendary jazz singer, Sarah Vaughan, met the internationally renowned political activist, Professor Angela Davis as well as members of the Attica Prison Riot. There was a solid week of political inspiration and learning with some of the best thinkers of the US civil rights movement. Leaders of the NCBL such as Adjua Ayetoro and others visited London in subsequent years to keep that unity alive.

Returning from the US the SBL implemented its political master class by immediately requesting a meeting with the Lord Chancellor, Lord McKay of Clashfern at the House of Lords. We obtained a warm welcome although it took over thirty minutes to explain that yes we were African and Asian lawyers and yes we were there not to visit the building but to met the Lord Chancellor. Those meetings continued on an annual basis throughout his time in office. The lessons of the US civil rights movement were reinforced by Kawme Toure (Sykely Carmichael) , speaking to SBL at County Hall, at the old GLC building in 1984, were to “organise, organise and organise” and use the mainstream media to educate and reach our own people.

In 1990 the SBL attended the 50th anniversary of the National Institute for the Advancement of Coloured People (NACCP) in New York addressed by Rudy Narayan and Peter Herbert. SBL was reported by a legal woman’s rights activist in a legal publication in Japan for the first time. In 1992 the SBL made submissions to the Royal Commission on Criminal Justice advocating multi racial juries and the need for race training for all members of the full and part time Judiciary. In a campaign run jointly with the National Association of Probation Officers (NAPO) and the then Assistant General Secretary, Harry Fletcher, the Black Probation Officers Association and the Association of Black Social Workers we successfully exposed examples of judicial racism across the UK. These embarrassing and outrageous comments, such as “murderous Sikhs,” ,“Nig-Nogs” and “N in the woodpile,” led to the implementation of s95 of the Criminal Justice Act 19991. In coming years the report by Dr Roger Hood of Oxford University would again highlight the disparity in sentencing, especially between white and African Caribbean and Asian defendants, based on a comprehensive study of several thousand defendants at Wolverhampton and Walsall Crown Courts

In June 1992 the National Bar Association visited the UK, and took part in a mock trial in Kensington Town Hall with barristers Karl King, Courtney Griffiths Q.C. and others laying key roles. When the appalling beating of Rodney King flashed across television screens worldwide SBL demonstrated outside the US Embassy in London being joined by the legendary black M.P.,Bernie Grant M.P., the National Black Caucus and many other organisations to protest at what was occurring.

When the police uprisings in Watts in Los Angeles took place the SBL was able to call an African American surgeon working in the local hospital and have direct access to most of the UK media who were afraid to go out on the street. A joint press release was put out by SBL, the National Bar Association (NBA) and the Black Lawyers Association of Canada (BALSA) and faxed to news agencies around the world stating our condemnation of the failure of the US justice system. Within a few weeks SBL joined the NBA in having discussions with the US Ambassador to the UK who openly admitted the US Justice system had , “messed up”.

Racial Attacks and Violence

The spate of racial murders in the United Kingdom was occurring through out this period from the murder of Ruhullah Aramesh, (the Afghan medical Doctor murdered in Thornton Heath), and the teenagers, Rohit Duggal, Rolan Adams and then Stephen Lawrence all happening within a small radius of the BNP Headquarters in Welling in South East London. SBL met with all the families of the murdered victims under the auspices of the Anti-Racist Alliance (ARA) established by Labour Party Black Sections activist Marc Wadsworth and subsequently chaired by Ken Livingstone M.P. and Diane Abbott M.P. SBL worked closely with Mr and Mrs Lawrence, and Dwayne Brookes the witness who survived the horrific attack on Stephen to begin the long fight for justice.

Following the murder of Stephen Lawrence the first of several visits by the Reverend Al Sharpton was met with hostility by the British Media. A Government Minister sneered that you cannot “launch the revolution from the Mayfair Hilton International” but instead it was Al Sharpton who took on the UK media and won hands down. His various attacks on the UK establishment and even on the Queen and her “stolen” crown jewels guaranteed attention for the racial murder victims. A meeting at Friends House, Euston Road, in London was attacked by racists with a firebomb but the meeting led to a successful march on Holborn Police Station in the aftermath of the attack with police helicopters overhead, to free an Asian brother unlawfully detained by police. SBL helped lead the march and played a significant part in the community led campaign demonstrating over three days with the parents of Rolan Adams, Richard and Audrey Adams, at the Notting Hill carnival on the All saints Road. We worked together with key activists such as Lee Jasper, Rita Patel, Simon Wooley, Claudia Webbe, Suresh Grover and Maxey Hayles amongst many others too numerous to mention.

In many public order situations from London to Cardiff to Liverpool and even to Derby African, and Asian communities have often had to act in self defence. In Derby in 1996 where a local nightclub, Rosco’s, had a policy of excluding young black men this “colour bar” reached new heights when white bouncers battered a young black man who tried to enter the club with his white friends. Subsequently a group of his friends went to the club and were met with an assault by the club owners and then by the local police force.

The police were happy to take statements saying it looked like a scene form the film, “Zulu” so embedding a racist culture in the evidence. The victim was charged along with his friends, his mother who was a local magistrate was even suspended from sitting by the local bench, and the trial moved to Leicester to prevent local prejudices with a large degree of community support from BME communities in the Peartree Road area. Most defendants were acquitted with SBL playing a leading role in providing for barristers and solicitors who fought the case whose members of the local Bar were trying to persuade defendants to plead guilty.

Meetings were held with the then Home Secretary Kenneth Baker M.P. and Bernie Grant M.P. to pursue the argument for the introduction of racially aggravated ofences. This campaign eventually led to the introduction of racially aggravated offences in the Crime and Disorder Bill of 1998. Our organisation worked closely with the Labour shadow front bench Home Affairs team, Newham Monitoring Project, the National Black Caucus and many others to persuade the new Labour Government in 1997 to hold the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. The SBL joined others in giving evidence to the Inquiry but were the first to advocate the exception to the “Double Jeopardy “ rule to permit a fresh prosecution where new evidence came to light.

The strategy to invite the Deputy Assistant US Attorney General Eric Holder to address Hate Crime in the UK in December 1998 was done to outflank the UK Government to place international pressure on the UK Government to introduce all the recommendations of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. The visit by Nelson Mandela to meet the Lawrence family and subsequently Brixton also brought huge political and media pressure on the UK Government. During the Inquiry itself the SBL met and interviewed Louis Farrakhan at this home in Chicago in 1996 following a National Bar Association conference. SBL helped to negotiate a visa for the Minister via the British Consulate which was only revoked after an ill disciplined skirmish between some members of the Nation of Islam and police officers as they attended the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry at the Elephant and Castle. The then Home Secretary, Jack Straw used this event as an excuse to maintain the ban against a visit by the Minister which had been set up with the direct assistance of the SBL.

In 2002 SBL attended the International Conference on Hate Speech and Crime in Stockholm at the invitation of the CPS with the DPP, and subsequently set up the London Hate Crime Forum under the auspices of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Delegations were subsequently sent to Georgia, where evidence was given to the Georgia State Legislature in 2007, and meetings with a range of Canadian Government agencies in 2008. The delegations included, Bennett Obong, Peter Herbert, Cordell Pillay and Christopher Boothman.

Deaths in Custody

SBL has for many years campaigned to highlight the disparity in treatment of African, Caribbean and Asian communities in deaths in custody. The deaths of Orville Blackwood, in a mental health hospital, of Cherry Groce in 1985, of Shiije Lapite, Jean Charles de Menesez (2005); and more recently Mark Duggan are only a few of those where the establishment ha been challenged. In 2002 the SBL were asked by the then Attorney General to monitor the trial of three police officers charged with the manslaughter of Christopher Alder and sadly acquitted due to contradictory medical evidence put forward by the CPS. The SBL participated in a conference highlighting the families of all those who had died in such custody in 2004 called by the Attorney General, Sir Peter Goldsmith Q.C.

Fighting Racism & Discrimination in the Criminal Justice Agencies

The historic fight to encourage more African and Asian people to join the police service, prison service, probation and Crown Prosecution Service is the subject of many academic treaties and research over the years both in the US and In the UK. SBL were behind the move to establish the Black Police Association formed after African, Caribbean and Asian officers from the Metropolitan Police Service met at Bristol University in 1992. The Metropolitan BPA was encouraged by the Association of Black Probation Officers, SBL and other to form and led directly to the National BPA. The 1995 Race for Justice Conference introduced black officers to the Black Law Enforcement Association in the United States empowering police officers of colour to self organise.

In 2002 the then Attorney General Lord Goldsmith and the Solicitor General Harriet Harman formed the Attorney General’s Race Advisory Committee as a direct result of a series of cases won by SBL members Marieh Bamieh and Neeta Amin against the Crown Prosecution Service. These two women led, campaigned, and organised the initiative to force the CPS under the then Director of Public Prosecutions, Sir David Calvert-Smith to implement the changes recommended by race consultant Sylvia Denman. Between 2001 and 2003 the CPS were held to account about the promotion, retention and progression of BME staff at all levels. The task of combatting discrimination within the CPS received a major boost from the SBL ac campaign and led directly to the formation of the National Association of Black Crown Prosecutors. The careers of BME lawyers and paralegals in the CPS has progressed significantly since that time although much work still needs to be done.

BME Law Student Struggles and Initiatives

SBL played its part in addressing the issue when in 1989 Grace Higgins, a Bar finals student was one of many faced with failing the Bar exams in wholly disproportionate numbers as compared to her white counterparts. Students demonstrated outside the Bar Council and Law Society to highlight endemic racism and attracted much adverse publicity for their campaign entitled, “Ethnic Cleansing at the Bar”. The campaign led directly to the Enquiry into the Counsel for Legal Education (CLE) by Dame Joselyn Barrow, the celebrated educationalist of African, Caribbean origin in 1991. There were many systems in place that led to a disproportionate number of BME students failing a course they had hitherto passed in large numbers.

With a threat of a Judicial Review the CLE backed down and reviewed the marks of many BME students who were ultimately passed. Sadly, Grace Higgins did not benefit from this review and tragically died the following year. Her legacy was to force the Bar course to be taught throughout the UK, to have many more BME students admitted as barristers and to open up the whole legal education for Bar students who came from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Over the years SBL conducted talks at Universities, Bar School and at the Law Colleges. A survey of over 200 law students at Guildford Law College in 1994 found that BME students had to write approximately six times as many interviews as there white counterparts before getting an interview. The disparity of treatment was so stark one could identity the determining factor as being the length of the name if “foreign sounding”. Students with longer names, of either Nigerian or Sri Lankan origin clearly had the greatest difficulty in obtaining a training contract anywhere. Applicants with the same 2:1 degree had to write approximately 130 applications before obtaining an interview whilst their white counterparts only needed 30 applications. The racial disparity only disappeared when their degrees were from Oxford or Cambridge.

Rosemary Emodi, and more recently Bell Ribeiro-Addy, and Rebekah Isaacs, and many others in SBL organised and campaigned for the rights of BME law students to receive the proper access to education and career opportunities over the years. The major conference “Legal Futures” was held at Birbeck College and at City University in 2010 and 2011 to help give practical advice on interview techniques, confidence building. Joint seminars were held with City law firms such as Ashurst Morris to help BME students access the city experience, work placements and training contracts. SBL is currently working with the Urban Lawyers Group to address BME student needs in a conference and seminar setting.

International Conferences & Campaigns for Justice

The SBL led a group of organisations in hosting the first “Race for Justice” conference in November 1995 following the acquittal of OJ Simpson following representation by the celebrated US Attorney Johnnie Cochran. The NBA and Mr Cochran accompanied by Milton Grimes, his fellow LA trial lawyer, came to the UK for a week and toured extensively from Liverpool 8 Law Centre to a huge gala dinner in Birmingham to an international conference held at the Commonwealth Institute. Mr Cochran was widely reported in the international news media, visited Brixton, had a community hair cut n Tottenham High Road and spoke at the John Loughborough school before leaving the UK to meet with the then President Nelson Mandela. He was an international legal celebrity and the SBL, and NBA bith benefitted from his presence in the UK and on the international stage.

In 1998, SBL attended the NBA annual conference in Memphis, Tennessee and visited the memorial to Dr Martin Luther King at the Lorraine Motel. Moved by that experience Peter Herbert and Errol Pitter drove the 800 miles to Washington DC and invited the then Deputy US Attorney General Eric Holder to attend a yet to be planned conference on Hate Crime in the UK. In a short, but memorable meeting held on the very morning the US Embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi were blown up in terrorist attacks in August 1998 he agreed to come. He left our meeting to go and advise President Bill Clinton. On December 12th a substantial part of the whole US Department of Justice, the Washington Bureau Director of the FBI came to London and were royally hosted at the London Hilton hotel. Deputy Assistant Rose Ochi, a senior Japanese American lawyer led a large delegation of US lawyers, law enforcement officers and civil rights activists to meet and liaise with their UK counterparts in Government.

In a private meeting between the US Government and the Home Office she was asked why the DOJ had come to the UK at the invitation of a small NGO like the SBL, and she rubbed her skin and said, “this and justice”. The SBL throughout this period of the 1990’s was very often the legal arm for many campaigns within the African, Caribbean and Asian community working and sharing the stage with the National Black Caucus, Newham Monitoring Project and the Anti-Racist Alliance. The election of the Labour Government in 1997 led to a reduction in activism generally as many activists took up positions in the legal establishment. Many SBL members were successful in taking silk following the land break appointments of John Roberts Q.C. and Sigbat Kadri, the first two silks of colour appointed in 1988.

Members of SBL went on to hold full time Judicial office, Peter Herbert became Vice Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority in 2000, Nicola Williams was appointed a member for the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Makbool Javaid became partner in a city law firm and Christopher Boothman, was appointed Legal Director of the Office of Public Standards and the most senior black lawyer Patricia Scotland Q.C. became Britain’s first black woman Cabinet member when she was appointed Attorney General by the Labour Government.

Unfortunately SBL lost its funding in 2000 and the activity level dropped substantially, partly due to the career progression of senior members of SBL being committed to public office in a whole range of organisations that occurred in the aftermath of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Many BME lawyers successfully entered Parliament such as Sadiq Khan, (formerly of Christian Khan solicitors, who is at the time of this article Shadow Justice Secretary and prospective Mayoral candidate for London.

In 2009 the SBL held a major international criminal justice conference organised by Cordell Pillay, the Assistant General Secretary of the National Association of Probation Officers and held in partnership with the Association of Black Probation Officers. We were joined by the President of the National Bar Association and the conference was opened and supported by Patricia Scotland Q.C.. Justice links were presented to all speakers and panellists such as Rabinda Singh Q.C., Milton Grimes Esq, Doreen Lawrence O.B.E. and Sir Anthony Hooper Q.C. to mention just a few.

In recent years the SBL has enjoyed a revival celebrating its 40 th anniversary in 2013 at the offices of Fasken Martineau, one of the most diverse law firms based in Canada with offices in London. We also held seminars on Children in Conflict Zones and celebrated the life and times of our late patron Nelson Mandela with the South African High Commissioner. SBL continued its international role liaising regularly with the National Bar Association and attending their conferences in US cities each year. SBL has concentrated on specific campaigns or targeted activity given the limited resources. SBL currently supports the “Black Lives matters” campaign in the USA and liaise regularly with international organisations in the human rights field.

Campaign Against the Solicitors Regulatory Authority 2007 to present

In October 2007 the SBL led a campaign to expose the increasingly disproportionate rate at which BME solicitors were subject to disciplinary procedures by the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA). Our campaign in the media and within our community led to the SBL supporting a significant number of BME solicitors who were facing Court action by the SRA. This led directly to a committee chaired by Lord Ouseley to identify the racial origins and drivers of disparity.

The report produced in 2009 highlighted many areas of deficiencies in the work of the SRA concluding that if it faced an allegation of “institional racism” the SRA would be hard pressed to defend it. SBL coordinated a consortium of solicitors who had faced disciplinary action, many of whom who had been hounded out of practice in circumstances where many white firms or practitioners were either given light penalties or worked with the SRA and allowed to continue in practice. City law firms in particular appeared to escape any sanctions or interventions.

For at least one BME firm appears to have been faced with an organised campaign involving the Daily Mail newspaper who conducted a whole series of articles using vitriolic and racist articles and cartoons to demonise a solicitor and his Parliamentary links. The SBL lodged a formal complaint of incitement to racial and religious hatred about such behaviour by the media with the Metropolitan Police Service and the Lord Leveson Inquiry. At least two solicitors struck off by the SRA are currently involved i legal action against the SRA in California highlighting the alleged unlawful activity by the SRA and the Daily Mail.

Campaign against Racism and Ant-Semitism in Sport 2012-14

In late 2012 the SBL led a campaign against racism and anti-Semitism in sport, especially football in the aftermath of the John Terry racial incident. This met with much opposition from the PFA and FA but we nevertheless formed a successful alliance with grass roots football clubs and a few professional Premier league players to highlight racial discrimination. We supported Mark McCammon who was the first black footballer to successfully sue a football club for racial discrimination. The campaign obtained extensive coverage from Sky TV leading to an invitation from Brendan Cairns to address the SKY Sports team journalists SBL led a delegation to Washington DC with Premier footballer Jason Roberts and met with the Chief Executive and offcicers of the National Football League Players Association, facilitated by SBL member John Robotham, (now practicing in Washington), and with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

We had assistance from many quarters most notably form academic Professor Gus John and from grass roots football Chairs such as, Lincoln Moses and Wayne Henry from Birmingham and the late Trevor Hutton from AFC Wembley. The football establishment were particularly resistant to any non-sports intervention but they continue to be aware that sport and discrimination cannot co-exist and is too major a problem to assume those in sport can be left to put their own house in order. The “Rooney Rule” stil has not been implemented in European football despite all the talk of change, and many other initiatives continue to be debated within British football, which still has significant work to do as does the sport generally in Europe to clean up its act. The recent financial scandals and corruption within in FIFA clearly do not help the fight against discrimination of all sorts. SBL found that all too often those tasked with combatting racial discrimination became the well paid gatekeepers and apologists of the profession rather than its guardians.

In October 2013, SBL joined the NBA in London to host an international conference highlighting racial and other forms of unlawful discrimination in sport addressed by Baroness and other leading athletes. The SBL worked with the Jewish community organisations to highlight and report racial incidents within football grounds both at home and abroad. We are continuing to monitor the situation especially in the coming years when Russia will be hosting the 2020 World Cup.

The Refugee & Migrant Crisis 2015

In April 2015 the SBL were horrified to see the tragic death of over 800 refugees in the Mediterranean off the Coast of Lampedusa Island off the Libyan coast. The reports were appalling with men, women and children drowned, in part due to the appalling actions of the traffickers who had forced people below decks as the ship sank. These deaths came on top of the loss of hundreds of lives already at sea, mostly refugees fleeing Syria, Eritrea, Somalia and a variety of countries many fleeing the civil war in Libya. Aylan Kursi and his mother and sister may have eventually grabbed the attention of the Western media but sadly their story was unfolding for many years all across the Mediterranean.

SBL joined the Association of Muslim Lawyers in a mission supported by the Pakistani Medical Association to visit Lampedusa and Sicily in June over a four-day period. Within days of the tragedy the Sun Journalist had issued an article calling the migrants “cockroaches” and other derogatory terms. She repeated these vile comments on LBC Radio leading to the SBL and AML reporting her, her editor and the LBC radio owner to the Metropolitan Police and the International Criminal Court. Ms Hopkins was interviewed under caution but eventually no further action was taken either by the ICC or by the Metropolitan Police. Our work has however made it clear we will take action where journalists may seek to incite racial or religious hatred.

The SBL and AML mission was funded by Joseph Rowntree and by several law firms with a final report being published in December 2015 at the International Conference entitled, “The Refugee and Migrant Crisis- Do they have a future in Europe? The mission successfully led to meetings with the Mayor of Catania, Senator Enzo Bianco and a variety of NGO’s with presentations being made to the Mayor and to the Italian Ambassador in recognition of the work done to save refuges by the Sicilian population and by members of the Italian navy and coastguard under “Mare Nostrum”. In our the visits to the Mineo refugee centre and the railway station of Catania, and the small island of Lampedusa where 3,00 refugees were landed in a 24 hour period gave our twelve strong delegation a first hand understanding of the awful plight and suffering of refugees.

In September 2015 SBL and AML visited Calais and completed their mission interviewing a total of some 93 refugees. The findings, which are written in a report that is to be published in 10th December, will be used to engage with the European Commissioners, the African Union, and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the various UK Government. Seeing the deplorable conditions of refugees and migrants our ten members distributed hundreds of parcels of essential toiletry items, hijabs. These were gratefully received with a long but tiring day for everyone.

The Future

The future of SBL lies in the hands of young lawyers, students, jurists, and Judges of African, Caribbean and Asian decent in the UK and around the world who want to make a difference to the world they live in. Justice, as Dr Martin Luther King said does not ride in on the wings of inevitability but must be pursued passionately. This generation has left law students and our legal community with an organisation that we can be proud of. We have refused to be described as “Black and Asian” but adopt confidently the term “Black” as a political definition of our struggle.

This is a “living” website so any amendments or corrections are welcomed by the editorial team.

Shireen Khan
D Peter Herbert O.B.E.