Saturday, 25 July 2015

Internship Secured at Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council

I am pleased to confirm that two weeks ago on 13 July 2015 I began a three-month paid internship with Northamptonshire rights and Equality Council. This has relieved some of my stress over raising September's BPTC fees.

I have been really enjoying my new challenge over the past two weeks. It has been exciting working back in an environment where I am working with colleagues, after being self-employed for several years. I already feel that the depth of my knowledge of equality and human rights has significantly improved. I am currently in the process of developing new training courses to improve the financial stability of NREC's future. I have also attended meetings in the local council chambers, conferences and fairs.

I  will post a more in-depth blog on my experience in a few weeks when I have more time and more experiences to share.

The Race Relations Act @50-Dame Jocelyn Barrows

Dame Jocelyn Barrows does not need any introduction to those of you who campaign against racism within the United Kingdom. For those of you who have not heard of her, she has been a leading campaigner for racial equality for around 50 years. Dame Jocelyn Barrows was born in Trinidad but arrived in her home country, the United Kingdom in the late 1960's.

Dame Jocelyn has been an academic for all of her life until recently retiring at the young age of 86. She decided to stay for a ‘while’ in England after discovering that Caribbean children were not fitting in or reaching their full potentials in UK schools. Their parents lacked understanding of the UK education system and the schools lacked knowledge of Caribbean school customs. The teachers needed to be taught how to deal with Caribbean children in order to teach the children successfully. Teachers needed to understand that parents and teachers in the Caribbean BOTH instructed children rather than the UK tradition of ‘teachers asking and parents telling.’ In Dame Jocelyn’s speech, she expressed the importance of parents and teachers working together for the children's welfare and education to ensure that both parties have the same aims and objectives. I believe that this continues to be important for children development today, regardless of whether they are used to British customs.

Dame Jocelyn explained that the British government offered incentives to Caribbean people returning to the Caribbean after the second world war to encourage them to return to England to work in labour roles. Nevertheless, there was still a huge amount of racial tension present in the UK. While there have been improvements in tackling racism over the past 50 years, its presence remains, but more discreetly.

It was clear throughout Dame Jocelyn's speech that she has got through life successfully with a good sense of humour to address crass questions such as “where are you from” and “where did you learn English”. She made a joke about how she is proud to tell the staff at customs that she has been British since long before they were born! (As Jocelyn is a British national born in the British Commonwealth of Trinidad.)

Dame Jocelyn moved on to discuss the Race Relations Act 1965. She described the Race Relations Act 1965 as a gesture of good will, with the real changes being implemented in the Race Relations Act 1978. The Dame was part of the Community Relations Commission. In the 1970’s the CRC became part of the Commission for Racial Equality. The Commission for Racial Equality was a non-departmental public body that aimed to address racial discrimination and promote racial equality. Its work has since been merged into the new Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Race Relations Act 1978 allowed people suffering discrimination to seek justice. However, the Dame explained that this was not plain sailing! The Commission conducted research to identify the true extent of racism within the United Kingdom. They selected Caribbean people with high academics and qualifications to apply for jobs in the city alongside white British applicants. However, despite the white applicants having lower academic achievements they were always offered employment over the non-white applicants. Only one Caribbean person was offered employment in the city over white applicants, which was for a job to open up a branch in 'Africa'.

The Dame spoke about the difficulty in seeking justice in cases of racial discrimination because people are reluctant to go to court. However, this results in inequality and discrimination such as racism becoming stigmatic and prevents change. This continues to be a serious issue in irradiating racism today. Particularly since people developed the 'they are playing the race card' attitude when people attempt to challenge racial discrimination.

Jocelyn discussed the media's role in promoting diversity. Initially, programmes aimed at showing people that different races could live together were unsuccessful. For example programmes such as 'Love Thy Neighbour'. Nevertheless, over time, racial acceptance has improved with the increased presence of ethnic minorities on television. Dame Jocelyn discussed the importance of all ethnic people being fairly represented across the board from road sweepers to government. This was similar to the message that Sir Lenny Henry was trying to raise in 2014 when he raised concerns over the racial imbalance that continues to exist on the television.

Nevertheless, with cuts to funding anti-racism is being pushed aside to promote equality for other protected characteristics such as gender and sexuality. (This is something that unfortunately I am all too familiar with from working at Northamptonshire Rights and Equality Council.) Therefore, Dame Jocelyn urged everyone to continue to ensure that campaigning for racial equality continues. She wisely stated that there is no reason why the second and third generation of the Commonwealth can not have equal rights and opportunities along with other British Nationals.

The Race Relations Act @50-Dean Blake Morant

This blog was inspired by my attendance at a recent conference held at The British Academy on the 09-10 July 2015. The conference was titled ‘The Race Relations Act @ 50’.

On Thursday morning, the conference was opened by a powerfully intense speech by Professor Charles Lawrence. After Professor Lawrence's speech, we heard from the distinguished Dean Blake Morant. Blake Morant is the Dean of Montana Law School. He is also the President of the Association of American Law Schools.

Morant described the three key areas to focus on in order to increase change and development as:
 1)Education (particularly within Law Schools)
2) Business 
3) Legal/political change

Morant explained the strong ethos of diversity behind the Association of American Law Schools. He highlighted the importance of diversity throughout the American legal system to mirror society.  He moved on to discuss his career journey from a poor background where his mother was the first of her family to attend college. His motivation to be successful was influenced by his mother who taught him to "be academic or to be dead". His parents were strong believers in the importance of education in social and racial developmental change.

Morant stated that you can legislate rules and formalities but it is the context in which they are applied! This made me recognise the fact that it does not matter how many laws are implemented or how much effort goes into developing change if we do not also change the attitudes of society. This led to me assessing the importance of changing the attitudes and perceptions of both the wider public and members of the legal sector. Without positive and universal shifts in the attitudes of both judges and jurors, they can continue to enforce inequality based on their attitudes and interpretation of the law when delivering verdicts, judgements and sentences. Therefore more balance and diversity are needed across the American legal system, particularly the judiciary so that it represents the diverse population across America, subsequently encouraging change.

Morant also spoke about the ways his law schools teach students the importance of getting involved, in order to create social and legal change. He discussed the importance of teaching law students diversity in professionalism. He emphasised the point that without diversity and acceptance of people's differences you restrict yourself within the current legal climate. It was disappointing to hear some of his stories about white American law students intolerance of fellow students from other backgrounds. 

The Deans stories have made me analyse cultural and racial acceptance at UK law schools. I have not observed any direct racism towards specific students during my time at bar school. However, students who's first language is English have expressed intolerance of some students who speak English as a supplementary language. Some of these students concerns may be justified due to the level of accurate use of language expected of law students when studying at both undergraduate and professional training levels. Nevertheless, comments such as foreign students should attend separate classes are still subconsciously racist even if the legitimate reason for the suggestion is to divide people based on their ability to engage and exceed on the courses. If this was a legitimate reason to segregate students based on their nationality, students from private schools could argue that students from state schools hold up their development too. To separate students for either reasons would be like going back 50 years to a divided society where we do not use the same facilities as each other. Therefore instead of undermining international students abilities to engage in courses due to their level of oral English, perhaps we should be respecting their bilingual intelligence and appreciate the diversity that they bring to the course. It is clear that both American and UK law school students still need educating on equality.

The Race Relations Act @50-Professor Charles Lawrence 'Black Lives Matter'

This blog was inspired by my attendance at a recent conference held at The British Academy on the 09-10 July 2015. The conference was titled ‘The Race Relations Act @ 50’.

On Thursday morning, the conference was opened by a powerfully intense speech by Professor Charles Lawrence, who is a distinguished professor of law at the University of Hawaii. Professor Lawrence has been acclaimed for his work in anti-discrimination law, equality protection and critical race theory. He has sat on numerous public interest boards including the District of Columbia Board of Education. The title of the paper that he discussed at the conference was called ‘Black Lives Matter: Black Freedom, Mass Movements, Race Laws and Lessons from America’s Past and Present’.

Professor Lawrence began by reiterating African-American’s past connection to slavery. He described how African-American slaves who escaped the cotton fields achieved more than freedom. They challenged power and the ideology that property was more important than humanity. He quoted that a slave once said that the land should be owned by those who worked it!
The distinguished Professor described the role of activation in promoting racial equality while explaining the importance of activists learning about themselves during their protests.  He discussed how slavery and prejudice favors ownership of property over humanity. Professor Lawrence also explained how exposing the constitutions lies assisted in the restructuring of the legal system and policies. He also explained that what activists learnt through demonstrations was more important than what they actually achieved!

The most profound challenge came from young black revalued people through demonstrations in the Deep South in a non-violent manner (SNIP). Black activists in the 60s and 70s seemed more and their visions went beyond ideology. They saw themselves as part of a civil struggle rather than legal change. They learnt the beauty and strength of their own humanity as racial segregation became an embarrassment.

After the assassination of Martin Luther King and the implementation of new legislation demonstrations continued as legislation was insufficient. The politics of black civil rights was actually formed through the violent demonstrations during the mid 60's as groups of black people set up their own schools etc.

Professor described how in 2015 black people continue to be disciplined through continued deaths carried out by white people. These deaths continue to highlight racism and the reality that black lives do not matter to the states in the USA. You do not have to dig too deeply to appreciate the lack of justice that continues to exists for African-American men in the USA when at least two are killed each week by police in the USA The State refuses to spend a 10th of what is spent on imprisonment on assisting children in poverty, who are predominantly from non-white backgrounds. Disproportionate prison occupancy, homeless families, hungry children, separate ethnic schooling all highlight the continued division and injustice that African Americans face.

Professor Lawrence chillingly signified how his wife reads aloud daily to him Tweets relating to racism and anti-racism, including the #icantbreath and #blacklivesmatter. He emphasised the all too familiar injustice that we hear of within the media and social media. It made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up as Professor Lawrence reeled of cases such as the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the death of Eric Garner in New York. He described the shock that the public demonstrated in these high profile cases as subconsciously existing due to the lack of injustice being expected, rather than shock.

He moved on to discuss the recent events in Charleston and quoted the killers chilling words "you are raping our women and killing our children". 'The mayor of Charleston publicly described the racist murders as "Pure concentrated evil". Since these inhumane deaths, there have been huge demands to remove the racist confederate flag. Businesses including Walmart and eBay have joined the fight against racism by publicly refusing to sell the Confederate flag in future! "We can't look away and use the law to pretend that racism has been cured!" "The black youths of today must now face the challenges of making sure all black lives matter across the USA."

Professor Lawrence moved on to explain the radical changes that are needed to ensure that his dreams of racial justice and equality become a reality. He explained how the redistribution of land was essential in achieving this. He also discussed how revolutionary transformation is achieved.

At the end of Professor Lawrence's speech, I was left contemplating the fact that historical changes to racial equality have only been accomplished due to the powerful white wanting 'peace' rather than humanity existing in their soles.

Inner Temple Student Residential Weekend- Preventable Deaths: Life in the Hands of the State, Does it Really Care?

On a sunny Friday afternoon in March 2015, I arrived at Cumberland Lodge, set within the beautiful grounds of Windsor Great Park. I attended Cumberland Lodge as one of my Inns annual residential weekends, held for student members of the Inn. The weekend was worth 3 of my 12 dining points which all BPTC students are required to complete before being called to the Bar of England and Wales. 

The weekend was a fantastic opportunity to meet and exchange ideas with fellow BPTC students from different course providers across the country. It was also a relaxing and pleasant atmosphere to network with senior members of the bar and other professionals who had kindly given up their weekend to offer their expertise and support. During the weekend there were also opportunities to attend lectures with experienced and senior professionals involved in preventing and investigating deaths of prisoners in custody. 

I have a keen interest in prisoner welfare as a Lay Observer, Independent Custody Visitor and Appropriate Adult. Therefore, I was very excited about attending this event from the moment I discovered that I had successfully secured a place to attend this residential weekend. This was prior to me discovering the details of the successful professionals that were in attendance. Professional speakers included Dame Anne Owers DBE (the chair of the IPCC), Helen Shaw (Co-Director of Inquest), Marin Casey (HM Coroner), Professor Keith Rix (Forensic Psychiatrist) and Lesley Thomas QC. We also had the opportunity to interact with members of the bench and several barristers. 

On the Saturday afternoon members of the bar held an interactive mock trial/advocacy masterclass for students to observe. Student members of the Inn also participated in advocacy exercises daily, benefiting from advice from skilled barristers and lecturers. These sessions were particularly useful for BPTC students with upcoming advocacy assessments. I found the advocacy classes useful for building on my advocacy confidence when performing in front of people who I am unfamiliar with. At Bar School, you quickly build confidence when performing in front of your peers due to knowing each other. In fact, it must have been my lucky week as I was placed in the advocacy group judged by Lesley Thomas QC which meant that I dined in a group with him and his guest speakers. As someone who has dedicated the past few years to prisoner welfare, it felt like I had won the lottery sitting in the presence of the most senior campaigners for prisoner welfare. To suggest that the conversations were inspiring and thought provoking would be an understatement. I also found that Lesley was one of the most friendly but professional senior members of the legal profession that I have ever met. That is probably why he is held in such high regard throughout the legal profession and beyond. It was only last week that Dame Jocelyn Barrow praised Lesley's work during her speech at the 'Race Relations Act @ 50' conference.

In the daytime, there were breaks in our busy timetable to enjoy walking around the grounds and a chat over coffee and cake. In the evenings, we enjoyed dining in our groups, a few drinks in the bar and a game of pool in the basement of the lodge. On the Saturday evening, we were entertained by both students and benchers who took part in a tasteful but energetic talent competition, followed by karaoke. In fact, the atmosphere was so energetic and friendly on the Saturday evening that even a member of the bar staff decided to join in on the karaoke and entertained us with a few hits.

There was also an opportunity to attend The Royal Chapel for Sunday service where we were blessed with the presence of HRH Queen Elisabeth and The Duke of Edinburgh. It was very exciting to see HRH outside the chapel; her Majesty had a very positive aurora. I am not usually enthusiastic about attending church but on this occasion so many people were attending in hope of meeting the Queen, so I though it would be a nice experience. The service exceeded my expectations and was my most pleasant visits to church. I think it is very nice that the Queen allows visors of the grounds to attend The Royal Chapel, in her presence (subject to security clearance).

Although the weekend focused on discussing deaths in custody and developing our advocacy skills, there was plenty of time to unwind, network and make new friends. I have built new friendships with people who I may not have had an opportunity to have met if I had not have attended this weekend. Four months after this training weekend and I am still in contact with several people that I met that weekend and hope to meet up again soon.

The residential weekend at Cumberland Lodge was an amazing experience and I will forever cherish my memories of that weekend. In fact, I enjoyed the weekend so much that I wish the opportunity was available annually through my Inn. It was a very positive way to network and build positive relations in a relaxing but educational environment. I would like to thank Lesley Thomas QC and Inner Temple for organising an interesting and memorable weekend in friendly and knowledgeable company.

I hope my blog encourages all BPTC students to take advantage of the one-off opportunity of attending a residential weekend with their Inn, before being called to the bar.