Old Bailey’s first non-white judge was mistaken for defendant

By | April 8, 2017

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The Old Bailey’s first non-white circuit judge has said she was often mistaken for a witness or defendant when she started working as a lawyer.Anuja Ravindra Dhir began her career in the 1980s. She became a circuit judge at the Old Bailey in February.The 49-year-old said at first, most clients did not want to be represented by a young Asian Scottish female.She also said that, when she wanted to go to university in the 1970s, she was told to be a hairdresser instead.As well as being the first non-white circuit judge at the Old Bailey, Judge Dhir is the youngest.She said: “My daughter, it would never cross her mind being treated differently because she’s a female or because she’s not white, whereas in my generation we did.”We were surprised when people didn’t treat us differently. Not now, but when I came to the bar, I was not expecting to be treated like a white Oxbridge male at all.”‘Aim lower’At school in Dundee, Judge Dhir said she was steered towards a different career.”I wasn’t the cleverest person in my year at school,” she said.”I’m dyslexic so I find it difficult to read and write. And when I went to school in the 1970s in Scotland, women were not encouraged to aim high.”When I first said to a teacher at school I wanted to go to university when I was older, she told me that I should aim a little lower and suggested I try hairdressing instead.”Judge Dhir said when she was called to the bar in 1989, most barristers were male, white, from a public school, and with “some connection” to the profession. “Now that’s four differences already before we start,” she said.”Added to that, most clients did not want a young Asian Scottish female representing them so that made it harder for me to build a client base.”Mistaken identityJudge Dhir said she once had to produce her wig and gown before security allowed her into court.”I got used to turning up at courts and people saying to me ‘Witness? – no – Defendant? – no’ and looking rather surprised when I said I was the advocate,” she said.”I’m often asked if there is a glass ceiling. I think sometimes there are two ceilings – or no glass ceiling at all.”There is one glass ceiling that’s in our minds, that’s what we think we can achieve so perhaps we impose our glass ceiling and that has happened to me several times.”The Old Bailey houses 15 judges – 10 men and five women. Three out of six of the most recent intake of judges are women.