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Diary of a not-so-baby BarriSTAR

An alternative perspective

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Top tips & benefits for students interested in Pro Bono 

With National Pro Bono Week 2016 having just come to an end, I found myself reminiscing back to university student days and particularly pro bono fun! I thought I would collate some thoughts that may be useful for current students looking to pursue careers in law. I hope it helps!
  1. Do pro bono! Make sure you sign up to get involved with pro bono projects during your time at university. University Law Societies always have great things on offer like mooting, careers events etc. But if you are serious about a career in law, experience in Pro Bono work is a must. Pro Bono is an incredible way to develop a number of skills not to mention it is one of the very few ways you can gain a real insight into life as a lawyer.
  2. Do not treat pro bono as just a CV enhancer or tick box exercise. For any pro bono experience to be truly meaningful and beneficial, you have to commit to it.
  3. Don’t spread yourself too thin! It is likely that all of the pro bono opportunities being offered look great. But don’t just put your name down for everything. Be realistic. Where do your strengths and interests lie? Where can you make the most impact? Where can you develop the most skills? There’s no point doing five projects poorly when you can do one or two extremely well.
  4. Keep a record of all the projects you get involved with and the type of work that you do during your university career. It is useful to reflect on your work and often you might have a similar case/issue that comes up, that you have dealt with before and you can refer back.
  5. Share any exciting work or projects you’re involved with. The pro bono community is relatively small and with the wonders of social media it’s easy to keep up to date with what other people or student groups are up to. It’s a brilliant way of sharing ideas, learning from each other and building a pro bono community.
  6. Be prepared to talk about pro bono work in interviews! Pro Bono can really strengthen your CV and applications for jobs. But unless you can really explain how it has helped you enhance your skill set and explain how it relates to any particular job – it’s pointless. Again, if it’s just a CV enhancer-interviewers will see through you!
  7. Planning to go into the city lawyer life? Even if you are sold by the city lawyer lifestyle that a corporate career provides, pro bono work is still important. Most city firms have huge pro bono departments so you can still offer your services whilst making your big bucks.
  8. Planning to go into legal aid work/public law/the non shiny corporate world? Good for you! You more than anyone will see every single day the importance of pro bono work and how you will be making an impact on people’s lives for the better. It isn’t all doom and gloom and although has it’s challenges, can be extremely rewarding.
  9. Always remember the importance of pro bono. Ask yourselves why is pro bono work important? Being a lawyer is often perceived as a glamorous career- especially if you watch Suits (!) But always remember it’s a noble profession that essentially comes down to achieving justice. As lawyers, we have a responsibility to try and ensure that justice remains accessible to all. Especially in these increasingly difficult times.
  10. Continue pro bono after graduation! Don’t make the mistake of thinking that once you’ve got your degree, finished law school and got a job offer, pro bono is no longer important. It should remain a part of your journey and indeed be a big part in shaping your identity as a lawyer – one that cares.

Some great organisations in my experience to connect with for pro bono/volunteering opportunities:

Bit about Me 

I am a junior barrister specialising in criminal defence with a background in human rights and international law. I graduated from the University of Warwick in 2010. I found my love for social justice work through pro bono at Warwick. 

I was Pro Bono Officer in my final year and introduced a number of new projects to the Warwick Pro Bono portfolio. For the first time, in 2010 Warwick Pro Bono was recognised in a number of national awards including the LawWorks Attorney General Student Awards 2010 and we won the BPBU law school challenge. 

I also set up YOU*th Inspire as a student and continue to direct the project. We are always looking for new volunteers and organisations to collaborate with. We are currently making plans for 2017- please get in touch!

Follow us on: @youthinspire 

FB: YOU*th Inspire 

Zi

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Nearly two months in NYC at the brilliant Center for Constitutional Rights on a Pegasus Scholarship from the UK. I have been keeping a work diary and a record of personal reflections, but today I felt inspired to start writing again.

We had a lunch seminar with the fantastically inspiring Fayrouz Sharqawi from Grassroots Jerusalem a brilliant Palestinian organisation based in Jerusalem.

She discussed the challenges faced every day by Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem. Simply to do basic things. To have a house; to have a house that may or may not be demolished at some point; to have a job; to be able to travel to your job; to have a school to go to; to be able to go to university without being tear gassed; to have free access to your own farmland- the list is endless.

She talked about Israel’s ‘centre of life’ policy, a tool deliberately designed to forcefully displace Palestinians. Residents have to prove their ‘centre of life’ is in Jerusalem. So when the authorities come knocking on your door, without notice after midnight and you’re not there, you risk losing your home.

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The example Fayrouz gave was, if you studied medicine for instance at Al Quds university, your degree isn’t recognised by the relevant authorities to practice in Jerusalem, so you have to travel outside of Jerusalem for work. This takes hours because of the separation wall and checkpoints, forcing you to rent somewhere nearer to work.

Voila, you’re stripped of residency in Jerusalem because it is no longer your ‘centre of life.’

Another example of Israel’s displacement policy is demonstrated by the fact that only 11% of the land is for Palestinian recreational construction, despite them constituting approximately 40% of the population. In recent years, 94% of applications for building permits made by Palestinians were rejected, forcing them to build homes ‘illegally’ rendering them liable for demolition.

Land confiscations, house demolitions and the consequences of the separation wall, deemed illegal in international law, are just a few of the tools that are being used to change the geographic and demographic nature of Jerusalem. Ultimately, this is part of a systematic policy designed to appropriate Palestinian land and isolate Jerusalem from the West Bank with the goal of establishing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Despite the ongoing occupation and persistent violation of human rights, Palestinians continue to resist through their existence. Grassroots Jerusalem founded in 2011, is a hub committed to Palestinian led struggle and liberation. With 80 community organisation partners, they act as a hub for Palestinians to build networks, organise, mobilise, and ultimately to unify in their resistance to the occupation.

When asked about partnering with Israeli organisations, Fayrouz’s response could not have been more poignant. Grassroots Jerusalem do not engage in ‘normalisation’ (that is to say normalisation of the status quo) and therefore do not work with Israeli organisations. She stated that real life power relations and politics are replicated within Israeli and Palestinian partnerships in doing this kind of work. Who truly ends up making the decisions in such ‘partnerships?’

Her response reminded me of some of the issues explored in Malcom X’s autobiography by Alex Haley that I am currently reading. Particularly, the notion of ‘separation’ as opposed to both ‘segregation’ and ‘integration.’ It is interesting to consider the methods through which oppressed people perceive they can achieve their freedom. A choice only they can legitimately make.

She emphasized that Palestinians need to empower themselves. Freedom cannot be found through the oppressor.

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In her view, Israelis sympathetic with the Palestinian plight need to address the deep rooted issues in their own society first i.e. challenging the views Israeli youths have about Palestinians. It is not for them to ‘save’ Palestinians.

In the same vein, Grassroots Jerusalem is committed to and are working towards a self-sustainable funding model which would mean they would not be reliant on international donor funding. She explains such funding comes with a number of restrictive conditions and unsurprisingly- a political agenda.   As if to say “here is a million Euros for your cause, but you need to work for your liberation in ways we dictate.”

Fayrouz spoke with passion and fire. For me, she embodied the same Palestinian spirit I was blessed to find in refugee camps in Lebanon, in Jerusalem and the West Bank; highly principled, resilient and fierce.

There are a number of ways to support Grassroots Jerusalem. They offer political tours, sell a political tourist guide of Jerusalem, have a volunteer programme and much more.

When she was asked how people like us can help, she said the two key things are solidarity and tangible support. Not forgetting BDS.

Get involved. Renew your commitment to a free Palestine.

Zeenat recognises that she has been immensely fortunate to have received scholarships during her academic training, without which she would have had to rethink her career path. Now she is utilising her career at the Bar as a platform to try and effect meaningful change for those that come after her, as well as her clients, the community and society in general. She says, “It’s important to utilise the skills and opportunities we have been afforded with, to contribute, fight back and stand up against things that are wrong. If being where I am means I have a stronger platform to do that, then I am going in the right direction.”

Carving a Path to Justice: Race & Gender in the Legal Sector

An Unbreakable Spirit of Strength and Survival | The NewJurist

“You ain’t no Muslim Bruv”

Powerful representation of the frustrated, angry Muslim response to acts of terror being carried out in the name of Islam. A response I can fully identify with when such acts are committed.

But the tragic act of violence that happened in Leytonstone isn’t one of them.

When a Muslim man commits an act of violence shouting “this is for Syria,” it is considered a ‘terrorist’ incident. When a white man commits an act of violence shouting “white power,” it is considered a racially aggravated incident.

Why the differentiation? Because he is Muslim? Because of what he said? Or both?

Surely by this logic, any person who is Muslim, commits a crime and makes some reference to something political is a terrorist.

The question is, why do we need responses like “You ain’t no Muslim Bruv”? It represents a perpetual obligation that Muslims feel to justify their faith and distance themselves from such acts. But why should we need to do that?

The language of terrorism and specifically ‘Islamic fundamentalism/jihad/extremism’ whatever you want to call it, is chucked around so freely that it has become embedded in the mainstream narrative of what people understand of Muslims.

That narrative is not ok. And must be challenged and dismantled.

“You ain’t no Muslim Bruv” represents the pent up frustration of having to defend one’s faith from attack. It does so powerfully and ironically – eloquently.

But we shouldn’t need it. And the fact that we do, the fact that it is trending, the fact that the PM has hijacked the phrase – is a problem. Reclaim our defiance. Reclaim our faith.

Hundreds of stabbings in London, day in day out. But our ‘free press’ likes to be selective in what is reported and how it is reported. All designed to serve the narrative.

A man, with mental health difficulties, who committed a crime. Sounds like many of my clients that I represent on a daily basis.

Not a terrorist.

From The Jungle no.1: The Map

“The Jungle” is a refugee camp on our doorstep. In Calais, a matter of an hour and a bit away from us exists what should be the deepest source of shame for us, our government, the French, our European neighbours and the rest of the international community.

The problem is embodied in the semantics. The labelling. The choice of words.

The Jungle?

I am not sure where the name for the camp came from. But it is where the process of dehumanisation begins.

In labelling this area the “Jungle” we are saying a number of things.

The inhabitants are not human.
They are animals.
There is no order.
No system.
No rules.
No rights.
And no corresponding responsibility.

The label only seeks to legitimise the deep injustice. It is ok to call a structure made with bin liners and sticks home, it is ok to have to queue hours for one meal and not be sure you’ll get one because there’s not enough to go around, it’s ok to have nothing on your feet despite the mud and the floods of water, it’s ok to have no sanitation, no properly running water, no electricity and everything else that comes with living in a ‘jungle.’

It is ok, because you are not human.

The camp might be ‘The Jungle’ to us.

But it is not for those who call it their home.

The refugees. People. Humans.

In the words of one of them, “it is not a jungle, it is a village because we work hard.”

Despite our dehumanisation of them, they continue to represent the true meaning of humanity.

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In sharing this post and others that will follow, I hope to help in highlighting some of the harsh realities of the refugee crisis, challenge stereotypes, encourage dialogue but most importantly hope that people will find it within themselves to not only read, and maybe share- but to act.

I am working with friends and colleagues in pooling our skills and experience to establish how we as a collective community can best try and contribute to this ongoing crisis. If you are interested, please get in touch.

This is a law eternal.

Every day feels like a lifetime. It’s impossible to retain details. Details of the madness, the stories, the frustrations, the triumphs and everything in between. I started this blog in the hope I could reflect upon and monitor (!) the madness that is pupillage. But I have not posted anywhere near as much as I had hoped. When every day is a whirlwind it’s hard to keep track. Of your own thoughts. Of your own anything.

Mid week and thus far I have submitted my first tenancy assessment, got a transfer of legal aid on a seemingly impossible case, got an acquittal for a guy pretty much in contempt of court and sat the longest I ever have with a guy in con on the day of trial- who ended up pleading. Just a snapshot.

Final countdown to the big Q. Milestone of sorts although tempered by the mandatory third six that follows.

I wore heels in court today and I rarely-basically never do. I think it made my advocacy better? Any reason to invest in more shoes…

In a sleepy slumber but thought I should touch base. With myself.

Weeks off being a qualified barrister.
Really?
I hope I learn to know what I’m doing soon….!

If I could categorise this process in one line it would be –

Flying by the seat of my pants.

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