Written by guest Columnist, UK Barrister. Ryan Clement.
I had the pleasure of watching and listening to Janet Hills being interviewed by Marceline Powell on the Urban Kapital podcast, Intelligent Conversations. The interview took me on a mental journey back to my past. You see, Janet, a Detective Sergeant with the Metropolitan Police, spoke about first being part of the Met as a black person and as a woman and the, “double challenges,” she faced at the time.
I suspect, also, that, at the time, her chosen profession did not particularly warm some sectors of the community in which she served towards her. In fact, she spoke of her having lost some friends because of her choice. In 2013 she became the first female Chair of the Metropolitan Black Police Association and remains in that position today, which makes her MBPA’s longest serving occupier of that office.
Today, 50% of MBPA’s Executive are women. So good work is being done with no doubt more to do. That part of her journey reminded me of part of mine. In 1997 I completed my LL.M (Master’s Degree in Law). I cannot recall the correct title of my thesis, but I had a need to look for a definition of ‘institutional racism,’ which I first came across, and on which I relied, in Lord Scarman's 1981 Report into the Brixton Riots. I was fascinated by the concept of an institution, as opposed to an individual, being considered as racist and the surrounding debate. I grew up in London and was aware of the mistrust that some sectors of society had of the Met. Naturally, I was also aware of the ‘sus law’ and had not directly been a victim of it, but was conscious that it was probably rifer in some areas than where I grew up. Following the horrific murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993 (I still find it hard to even think about this, let alone mention it on this anniversary - 22 April), being the year that I started to study law in its own right, the Macpherson Report was published in February 1999. Like Scarman, Macpherson examined the meaning of, ‘institutional racism.’ I was still intrigued.
Two things happened around this time, the significance of which I could not have appreciated at the time. Firstly, I had joined the Bar to be a construction law barrister, not to specialise in employment law. For some reason, a small firm of solicitors in Hounslow, Middlesex, who specialised in immigration law took a shine to this upstart and was sending me bits of work.
One day a prospective client had an employment matter, but this firm did not do employment law, neither did I. However, I had agreed to meet this prospective client for a chat only and to explain my position. He said he understood, but wanted me to represent him in any event.
With his assurance, I accepted the case. The 10-day trial was heard in London in April 1999 and was not only covered, in part, by a national newspaper but led to my being on live television.
This was the birth of my new specialism and overnight I became known as an employment law barrister.
Secondly, although I had not paid particular attention of it at the time, Macpherson introduced me to the name, “MPS Black Police Association,” who gave evidence and about which Macpherson said, amongst other things, “The oral evidence of the three representatives of the MPS Black Police Association was illuminating,” and, after citing passages of their evidence in full, concluded, “We believe that it is essential that the views of these officers should be closely heeded and respected.”
Macpherson had (re)whetted my appetite in race relations. In consequence, I wrote a paper on a brief introduction to race relations in employment law, which referred to the now repealed Race Relations Act 1976 (mostly absorbed into the Equality Act 2010). As a result of this, I was asked to speak at various RECs (Race Equality Councils).
Somehow, respectfully, my memory escapes me as to how this came about, I was asked to give a talk for the Northamptonshire Black Police Association. Following my first appearance, I was invited to speak for NBPA again. On this next occasion, I gave the penultimate speech, which was just before lunch. After lunch was the keynote speaker for whom I took my seat like everyone else (media included) in the packed auditorium,. The keynote speaker was Mrs Doreen Lawrence, now Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, OBE, the mother of Stephen Lawrence. I, like the rest, was moved by her words, grace and presence. So, when I saw Detective Sargant Janet Hills’ interview and the good work MBPA is doing to encourage more BAMEs to apply to join the Met and the trust it is seeking to gain and build within both the narrower and wider community, I was pleased. I have memories of MPS Black Police Association’s significant role in Macpherson, my paper written about the RRA 1976 after acquiring my newly found specialism in employment law, which led me to speak at two NBPA events and later meeting and being the warm-up for the admirable Baroness Lawrence. Turn a different corner and I may well have been specialising not only in another area of law, but our paths (BPA’s and mine) may not even have crossed.
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