Tanoo Mylvaganam – 1956 to 2015
How do you begin to capture the essence and apparent contradictions of the phenomena that was Tanoo. The question is how Tanoo herself would like to be described !!
It does not take too much of an imagination to see Tanoo throw her head back, and hear that tinkling laughter, as she contemplates this question with glee. For her friends in the legal community Tanoo burst on the scene at Bar school at the Council for Legal Education in 1981/2 and was called to the Bar in 1983.
For those who had the privilege of sharing a certain time and phase of her life Tanoo was a warrior for justice and truth. Amongst her peers and colleagues Tanoo was and is considered one of the brightest lawyers of her time, she fought fearlessly and passionately for the various causes she adopted, and there were many …. The rights of women, equality & diversity, the Tamil tigers, corruption in West Africa etc, police brutality and racism the causes were as diverse and as complex as was her character.
How does one capture the essence of Tanoo, with her diminutive petite frame, her rapid and swift movement, which reminds one of an exotic humming bird? This off course belies an intellectual powerhouse, artfully camouflaged in chaos … an intellectual eagle. The arrogant, the rude, the ignorant and pompous have discovered in various court rooms far too late to their deep shame and embarrassment, just how able a lawyer she was.
Tanoo was always in a state of haste, chaos…… for those who knew her, this did not prevent her from being the effective campaigner, mentor and friend she was to many from so many walks of life. Her advocacy extended beyond leading criminal work to employment discrimination and family law. Her best friends even knew her clients by name such as Mr Dewberry from Moss Side. The hardest criminals she would represent with glee and irreverence drawing sheer pleasure in creating a “beautiful skeleton argument” on their behalf. Conspiracies abounded around Tanoo at every twist and turn of a prosecution case, and in some cases she actually found they did.
On the international stage she visited the International Tribunal for Sierra Leone cross examining the former President in a tour de force, fighting the legal establishment in the Strangeways prison trials in Manchester and providing the legal inspiration for the private prosecution in the Stephen Lawrence case. In 1995 she appeared as a panelist at the “Race for Justice” conference along with the late Johnnie Cochran, & Bernie Grant M.P. Although from time to time she kept the company of kings she maintained her common touch and was never happier than representing and advocating for the disenfranchised and oppressed. A life long supporter and member of the Society of Black Lawyers and more recently the Sri Lanken Lawyers Association so always had her finger on the legal pulse. She had just completed a course in Immigration and Refugee law and was planning to attend the SBL conference in December and sending through, “must see” articles on the refugee crisis.
Diversity must be the word that best describes Tanoo, from her professional as a criminal barrister at any given time representing an appellant in the Rwandan genocide at the ICTR to Ilford County Court representing a parent on contact issues. In between all the work she was a social butterfly who was untiring in her love of life in London, with an ecliectic group of friends and in keeping up with friends new and old.
So truly who was Tanoo?, not a straightforward questions, to many she was simply an Asian lawyer, to others a Sri Lankan, but to some hapless Nigerians so many years ago, who decided to talk about Tanoo in their language to discover this lady responding to them in their language and topping it with fluent pidgeon English. At which point she triumphantly informed them that she was also Nigerian! Tanoo was all this and more, she transcended race, gender, nationality etc to give very much of herself to the junior lawyers and law students who would never have made it without her. They will remain her enduring legacy of a compassionate and passionate human being, one just has to mention Tanoo’s name and there will be smiles or laughter, because not so far away is always our collective memory of one or two adventures shared with Tanoo! SBL will be holding a commemorative dinner in her honour at a central London location on 12th December.
To a character larger than life itself thank you for letting us share your journey. Go well my sister.
D Peter Herbert
Education is our passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today You can't separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom