Two recent events have led me to recall the conference of the Society of Black Lawyers at the University of Warwick which I attended in, I think, 1987. I was then chairing the Bar’s first ever Professional Standards Committee, and our responsibilities included the oversight of the Bar’s Race Relations policies. These were being developed on a day to day basis by its Race Relations Committee, which was chaired by a High Court Judge (at that time Sir Richard Scott, a former Chairman of the Bar and a future law lord).
I later became the Chairman of the Race Relations Committee itself. I will also be posting a talk I gave at Gray’s Inn in 1992 when I referred to some of the progress the profession had been able to make since the Warwick conference.
I attended that conference (and also a follow-up event at Bristol a little later) because I thought it was important for me to listen at first hand to the discussions among black and Asian solicitors and barristers. I believe that my presence there was generally welcomed: there may have been only one other white person there.
The first matter that led me to recall that conference was the very sudden death ten days ago (from bacterial meningitis) of Tanoo Mylvanagam, born of a Sri Lankan family who came to the English Bar via a childhood in Nigeria and Zambia, some schooling in Ireland, a spell of time in Hong Kong, and a law degree at an English University.
I met her first in the lunch queue, and I remember that I was immediately put on the defensive by the very forthright way in which she would always express her opinions.
But we stayed in touch ever since, and I was able to help her from time to time, both with family problems involving the Home Office and a difficulty in her professional life. She practised at the criminal Bar and was passionate about maintaining standards and imparting helpful advice to young advocates. When she died, a member of her chambers wrote:
“a member of chambers who always cared about the juniors and the future of the Bar.”
When I retired from the Bench in 2006 she was good enough to organise a dinner at the Commonwealth Club, attended by about thirty of her contemporaries, as a gesture of gratitude for what I had been able to achieve for the Bar in particular and for the justice system in general over the previous 20 years in race relations matters. Since then I have had a meal with her every year at a whole series of London restaurants, often with my wife, (who was equally devoted to her) or her younger brother Paul. We attended her funeral last week. The church was full. We will miss her dreadfully.
She was a very strong believer in the Commonwealth and all it stands for. When I was going to Bermuda to speak in August 2007 she counselled me to mention Dame Lois Browne, who had died very recently. In the following month she and I were both going to the Commonwealth Law Conference in Nairobi, and she fixed up a 24-hour trip for us both by a small aircraft to Governors’ Camp in the Masai Mara, where a giraffe munched the leafy tree-tops across the river from my tent, a mother and baby hippo promenaded on the greensward below the restaurant where we had dinner, mongooses scurried around the camp site, a herd of elephants wandered around some woodlands, a lioness chased away vultures picking away at a dead impala at dawn, and a predatory crocodile winked at us from across the river where we breakfasted before returning to the dusty air strip for the flight back to Nairobi.
Tanoo was a passionate supporter of the English Bar and its values, the critical importance of due process and the centrality of the independence of the judiciary. Towards the end of her life she bemoaned the way in which standards seemed to be slipping and practices were developing in the marketplace in the quest for work which would have been unheard of when she started at the Bar. We were nearly due for another dinner date when she died. It is hard to think that this will now never take place.
There is now a statement on her Chambers website which reads:
“With the passing of Tanoo Mylvanagam the members, clerking team, and pupil barristers of 1 Gray’s Inn Square Barristers Chambers have lost a beloved friend and colleague. We are proud that 1 Gray’s Inn Square was Tanoo’s last professional home. All who knew her loved her courage and indomitable spirit. She was, as Kaly Kaul QC has said, one of the great characters of the Bar. Her commitment to her clients, and fearless representation of them, will stand as an example to all who practise at the Bar. Tanoo was for us at 1 Gray’s Inn Sqaure simply part of the family, and we are left bereft at her passing. We will forever remember her as a true friend, and someone who was willing to give support and wise counsel to any one of us.”