Barristers support Black History Month with historic St George’s Hall play

October 16, 2023

Barristers from across the region are marking Black History Month by supporting a historic play at St George’s Hall in Liverpool.

Just An Ordinary Lawyer is a full-length play by actor, singer and playwright Tayo Aluko.

The play, which has been performed in five countries, focuses on the life and times of Tunji Sowande, who arrived in the UK from Nigeria in 1945 and rose to become a well-respected barrister, the first black Head of Chambers and the first (part-time) black judge in Britain.  Tunji was also an active solo concert performer as a baritone singer, giving concerts for charities and to entertain residents of care homes. On top of it all, he was a great lover of sports, particularly cricket, proudly becoming a member of the exclusive Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC), known as “the home of cricket.”

Like the character he plays, Tayo Aluko was born in Nigeria.  He believes Black History Month is an opportunity to share stories, particularly positive and uplifting ones, about African history with everybody.

Talking about his play in the context of Black History Month, Tayo, who is now based in Liverpool, added:

Just an Ordinary Lawyer is an example of what I try to do with my work, which is use individual stories to look at history and the world, from the point of view of someone who might be just an ordinary person.

“If such a person opens their eyes, their ears and their mind, they will hopefully understand why the world is the way it is today, and particularly how people who went before us fought for the freedoms we enjoy today. Hopefully they will be inspired to accept a responsibility to also fight when they see those freedoms being threatened, or being denied others.”

Said Jaime Hamilton KC, leader of the Northern Circuit:

“Black History Month is an opportunity for the Northern Circuit to look both inwards and outwards. That opportunity is important as it allows us to learn things we may not have known, allows us to acknowledge the significance of certain historical events and provides us with the chance, together and individually, to think whether we should do anything differently. We should always embrace an opportunity.

Just an Ordinary Lawyer is important because it places an aspect of the history of the Bar in a personal light. The Bar is a very old profession. For centuries and centuries, it was made up of white men. Exclusively. We celebrated the stories recently of the first women who were admitted to the Bar on the hundredth anniversary of that event. Before that, the prejudice against women in a courtroom had been written into the laws and the regulations. The prejudice against people of colour just existed as a fact of life. It is important that we look at ourselves and ask why it is that it took until 1968 for the first black practitioner to become a part time judge. It was not written into the regulations that a black barrister could not be a part time judge, it was written into the people.

“That is why the Northern Circuit is supporting this play. It is very easy to think that the modern world is easy for everyone. It is very easy to think that the sort of barriers that existed up to 1968, do not exist anymore. That is what allows the barriers to continue to exist. As Leader of the Northern Circuit, I want the Bar to be open to everyone with the ability to be a barrister and also to attract everyone that wants to be a barrister and has that ability. Breaking down the barriers involves a lot of conscious work on ourselves and on the processes. It also requires opportunity being projected to those that may not think it exists. Events such as the staging of this play help with those goals.”

Brynmor Adams and Chris Gutteridge from Exchange Chambers were jointly appointed as Deputy Officers of the Northern Circuit’s Equality, Diversity and Social Mobility (EDSM) Committee in 2022. Brynmor in particular has played a key role in securing Circuit’s sponsorship of Just an Ordinary Lawyer. Both Brynmor and Chris continue to work on developing the Northern Circuit’s EDSM policies and progressing a number of EDSM projects.

Said Chris Gutteridge: “The Northern Circuit does a huge amount of work behind the scenes seeking to address the equality and diversity issues which are endemic at the Bar. It is difficult and complicated work – done, in the main, by volunteer barristers, but it is tremendously rewarding. I think it is just as important for us as an organisation to come together to publicly celebrate Black History Month. I can’t wait to see Just an Ordinary Lawyer and I have no doubt that the Circuit-sponsored performance will create interest in and excitement about our EDSM projects going forwards.”

Just an Ordinary Lawyer is being performed on 20 October 2023 at St George’s Hall in Liverpool.  The play is being sponsored by the Northern Circuit and will be attended by barristers and members of the judiciary from across the North.

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