I'm a barrister at Garden Court Chambers in London, specialising in immigration and asylum, including unlawful immigration detention cases.
Immigration law has been made complex and punitive, narrowed to the point that it separates families and prevents the National Health Service from employing the staff that it needs. Artists and academics are refused visit visas because of the arrogant assumption that everyone is lying in order to sneak into the country around immigration controls. British citizens with good jobs and plenty of money are refused the opportunity to bring their aging parents to join them in the UK, even if they can pay for private health care. Both individuals and the country as a whole suffer from the way the immigration system operates at the moment.
And the same goes for legal aid. Cuts upon cuts upon cuts have limited the number of people who can access legal advice, as well as driving some of the better legal aid practitioners out of the sector. Barristers doing legal aid work don't earn a fortune. A lot of them, especially at the junior end, can't pay their rent, meaning some of the most talented new entrants to the bar end up leaving. (I earned more money per year on a PhD studentship than I earned per year in my first five years or so at the bar, and I never knew when I would receive it.)
I love being a barrister. Days when you get a victim of human trafficking out of detention and into a safe house, and compel the Home Office to reconsider a (clearly flawed) decision that she was not trafficked; days when you get a lesbian client removed from a flight back to a country which has declared that homosexuals will be beheaded, with barely a couple of hours to spare; days when you win an appeal for a young client who has been disbelieved about his nationality, with a meticulously prepared case which proves he is from the country he said he was from; those days are hard to beat.
But junior immigration and asylum practice is driven by emergencies - decisions coming in which need appealing to a higher court within a day or two of you seeing them; urgent applications for injunctions - sometimes on the phone to a judge out of hours (while burning the kids' dinner or, on one occasion, trying to remove some dog poo from the bottom of one of their shoes). Often you wait a long time for payment, especially when you win costs against the Home Office, and there was never any guarantee of being paid enough in a month to cover the mortgage, no matter how many hours I worked. Legal aid fees were going down and train fares were going up until they almost met in the middle.
It didn't feel possible to do a good job of raising my kids and a good job for my clients in that context, so I'm on a long sabbatical, doing some research projects and writing, and I'll be back in practice when the time is right.
Garden Court is the reason I became a barrister. ‘Do right and fear no one’ is an ethos, not just a motto. Discovering that there were lawyers who used their education and their skills fighting for the most marginalised people was what inspired me to go back to university and get a law qualification.
We’re one of the biggest legal aid chambers in the country. My colleagues there are brilliant, inspiring lawyers at the forefront of immigration and asylum, claims against the police, public law and community care, gypsy and traveller, inquest, and housing legal cases as well as crime and family.
And I'm grateful to my colleagues there for tolerating my long sabbatical to spend time on research and writing.
(Photo: Garden Court Chambers)
I am a contributor to the 8th and 9th editions of Macdonald and Toal Immigration Law and Practice and the forthcoming 5th edition of Jackson's Immigration Law and Practice (also known as Jackson 5), co-edited by the brilliant Colin Yeo, editor of the Free Movement blog.
My article on the government's proposed massive increase to appeal fees in the Tribunal.
How does the UK decide who gets asylum?
Paragraph 322(5) of the immigration rules and how the Home Office has been using it to refuse leave to highly skilled migrants.
Roman Abramovich's investor visa troubles.
(Photo from Garden Court: Sonali Naik, Clare Wade, Amanda Weston and Brenda Campbell all became Queens Counsel in 2018)