Last week, Alexandra Wilson was promoted as ‘Barrister of the Week’ by the Lawyer Magazine in recognition of her willingness to provide pro-bono representation in the black lives matter protests. Alexandra discusses her pro-bono work, her pathway to the Bar, what it means to her to be ‘barrister of the week’ and how we must have open conversations to move forward in the black lives matters debate.
The haunting footage of George Floyd’s murder has had a huge impact on people across the world.
The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM), a global organisation in the UK, US and Canada, was founded in 2013 in response to the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of the man that shot him. BLM connects people from all over the world who want justice and seek to put an end to state violence against Black people.
Across the UK, there have been protests in support of the BLM movement. Inspired by lawyers in the US who have offered their services on a pro bono basis for those arrested during protests, many of us in the UK are also offering pro bono representation for those protesting for the BLM movement in the UK.
For many Black lawyers this isn’t a distant issue. We have seen our friends and family members who have been unfairly harassed by police officers and have often been harassed ourselves. For those of us specialising in criminal law, we are confronted by the disproportionate number of Black people in the criminal justice system.
This isn’t a political issue; there is no place for racism in our society.
Whilst we see overrepresentation of Black people in the criminal justice system, we see underrepresentation of Black people in the legal profession. There are not enough Black lawyers in general but there definitely are not enough Black barristers. I’ve written articles; spoken at events and have written a book about my experience as a mixed-race woman at the Bar. We can’t shy away from the fact that the legal profession does not reflect the diversity of the people we represent.
I have been joined by a number of wonderful barristers over the past few months in running mentoring sessions for aspiring barristers via zoom to try and make the legal profession more accessible. We ran a session specifically for students from BAME backgrounds where they were able to ask a panel of BAME barristers about their experiences at the Bar in a safe environment.
I was honoured to have been awarded the title of ‘Barrister [lawyer] of the Week’ by The Lawyer. I am lucky to be working alongside brilliant barristers and solicitors who are encouraging of me using my platforms to speak up about racial injustice. It has been overwhelming to have received so many messages from other legal professionals offering to help out in my mentoring sessions or to provide their services pro bono to support the BLM movement.
In the past few weeks, I have worked with other individuals and groups to launch a new organisation called One Case At A Time (OCAAT). There is a fundraiser on GoFundMe and the organisation is in the process of registering as a charity. The initiative has been created to facilitate funding and legal representation for people of Black heritage in the UK.
At the Bar we need to improve diversity, particularly the underrepresentation of Black people. We need to have honest, open and frank conversations about racism and the varied experience of barristers from a ‘BAME’ background. We need to look beyond ‘BAME’ and recognise that ethnic minority groups in the UK may have very different lived experiences.
Black lives matter every single day. We need to make sure that the Bar reflects that.
Alexandra specialises in both criminal and family law. In her criminal law practice she represents a variety of clients charged with serious matters and specialises in young and vulnerable clients. Her family law practice includes private children, public children, domestic abuse and finance cases.
Alexandra is publishing a book, ‘In Black and White: A Young Barrister’s Story of Race and Class in a Broken Justice System’ and is published in September of this year.