Now is the time
Susanta Banerjee, director at SKB Legal, joined the panel at an event discussing the UK’s criminal justice system organised by Croydon Young Offender Service. Susanta discusses the value in educating young people on the role of the profession, justice and injustice, and inspiring prospective lawyers.
“It is at times like these.” How many of us use such thoughtful expressions on a daily basis to describe trying or difficult times? The current pandemic, for all its limitations, has unleashed a need for the human spirit to shine and to look at ways of overcoming plight or difficulty, often by considering phrases just like this one.
I was able recently to join the Croydon Young Offender Service for a virtual event as one of the panel speakers. It was arranged by an energetic and innovative team at the Croydon YOS who believe in not only enthusing their young people but getting them involved and interacting with speakers.
The event was held in July 2020 and was designed to get a group of young people to listen to speakers about their experiences in the criminal justice system (CJS), which included a police officer. It was also our way at the Ethnic Minority Lawyers Division to reach out to minority black and minority ethnic groups to share experiences of the CJS and the legal profession generally.
My own has been a journey of almost two decades. I was able to impart some of the trials and prejudices I faced having started life as a trainee solicitor at a BAME firm in the heart of legal London.
My experience is no different to that faced by many others, but personalising the experience had the effect of humanising it. I was also a very young man from Luton with aspirations of becoming a lawyer let alone helming my own law firm.
We found the experience to be a thoroughly heartening and humbling one too as those listening had intelligent and important comments to make during the session. These included questions about the police’s powers to stop and search and how to access legal advice and services in an age of narrowing legal aid.
It is easy to forget the experiences of being young but living through the solitary experience of a pandemic can merely compound those feelings, especially for those already feeling marginalised.
To a degree this was a matter of making time for positive and stabilising mental health and taking steps to build good wellbeing. This is also something most lawyers fail to make time for!
The discussion also centred around building on knowledge, creating awareness and putting steps into action: the key drivers in bringing about change, not just pathways to work and finding apprenticeships. This was refreshing as it was important to assess the underlying factors that help people to avoid a criminal lifestyle, including choosing positive peer groups, having role models and seeking out mentors.
We also looked at unconscious bias, overcoming social stereotypes and grasping the nettle to become the leaders of tomorrow.
While we live in a world where we all want equality of opportunity, it was still important to recognise the desire to strive for your dreams as long as these were not breaking any rules or laws.
We spent time identifying some of my experiences while defending in the criminal justice system, among other issues such as:
- Do I have what it takes to become a lawyer?
- How do I represent those whom I suspect or believe may be guilty of the crimes with which they are charged?
- Would I need to know the law backwards?
- What’s the difference between a barrister and a solicitor?
While we are living in an age of the Black Lives Matter movement, and some excellent work is being done on racial diversity and inclusion, we need to build on this and ensure we do our bit to support and encourage as far as we can.
This investment of time and support was every bit as important to the Law Society as it was for the Croydon Young Offender Service and the young people involved and we hope to continue developing these over time.