Women in Law: 'Smart, able and indeed as brave as men'

An Interview with

Camilla Choudhury Khawaja

Barrister, Lecturer in Law

TheLawMap: Does 'the legal process as a means to resolving conflict' has exactly the same meaning to men and women?

Conflict is an emotive term and something, which affects us all but can be very difficult to resolve. Using the legal processes can lead to further acrimony in some instances, therefore one would be well advised to attempt collaborative efforts before pursuing litigation. Access to justice can also be eluded to some, sadly women tend to find themselves at the receiving end in most instances, so perhaps the answer to your question is in fact no.

TheLawMap: In your opinion, are women lawyers treated differently by clients and colleagues compared to their male counterparts?

We hear of a series of recommendations aimed at improving gender diversity across the profession. These include introducing gender targets and embedding flexible-working practices in corporate culture, but whether they will lead to actual change is debatable.

Despite concerted efforts by some firms to improve female representation in management, the Law Society said the profession was hiding an “uncomfortable truth” that some are paying mere lip service to flexible working.

“In some firms, where the opportunities for those wanting to strike a balance between high-flying work and family life are still scarce, men dominate the boardrooms,” the Law Society’s President Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said. “Unwittingly, these firms may be losing talented women and promoting mediocre men.”

TheLawMap: Is there still a glass ceiling in the UK within the legal profession?

An increasing number of firms have genuinely embraced and adopted modern flexible-working practices, allowing better work-life balance. These firms are attracting more talented women boardroom potential. Without such practices, women may indeed be unable to allow for that balance, hence amongst other reasons, find themselves hitting that infamous glass ceiling.

TheLawMap: What is the likely impact in terms of justice in the wake of cuts to the UK Legal Aid funding?

It beggars belief that people are to find justice, that they are to succeed as potential litigants in person, particularly with the adversarial system as it stands. I see first hand the results of the cuts and I also deal with the ramifications of those whom have attempted to navigate the legal system on their own. The impacts are profound, furthermore the effect of such drastic change affects not only the clients but also us practitioners too.

Restricting legal aid to victims of domestic violence who could provide evidence such as a criminal conviction against the perpetrator, a non-molestation order or an active child protection plan from the past 12 months could lead to a rise in deaths and assaults against women and children.

Medical evidence from a GP, A&E, counsellor or women’s refugee would not be enough to qualify under the new proposals which are part of coalition plans to slash £350m from the legal aid bill.

Half of all domestic violence victims will not qualify for legal aid to help them and their children safely separate from abusive relationships, according to research by Rights of Women and Welsh Women’s Aid. While most victims surveyed had collaborative evidence to show they were receiving support, most would not satisfy the new rules.

TheLawMap: Internationally speaking, what concerns you the most in the area of women's rights?

Women in countries where their human rights are being eroded on a daily basis, stories emerge every day from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the like. More recently Bangladesh with the clothing factory horror – do these women not have a voice? Does their lack of money or power or even status render them unable to deserve only what is right? Corporate social responsibility is an area which such companies need to embrace as opposed to the allowing of the workers to suffer for the rest of the world to wear what is essentially disposable fashion.

TheLawMap: What inspired you to become a lawyer?

Seeking justice, helping those who otherwise would have no voice, but also fundamentally the fact that I have been an academic and very involved in local politics for the past 14 years and have therefore seen the methods by which law is created, implemented, studied and practiced. This affords much in the way of interpretation of the law, all skills I use to help women every day through being the Women’s Lawyer. 

TheLawMap: Why do you prefer to be known as the Women’s Lawyer?

Becoming the Women’s Lawyer has been my goal for several years. With the recent changes in the legal system and to legal aid entitlement, which affect women’s issues in the main, I decided this was the time to offer legal advice and support to those most in need. With over fifteen years experience of lecturing and advising clients on varying areas of law I have set up the legal consultancy, The Women’s Lawyer (TWL), with the fundamental aim of assisting women. Speaking from both personal and professional experience, I am in a position to help those who may otherwise not seek the advice or guidance of a lawyer. It is my genuine belief that with the right guidance women can avoid numerous problems such as with their employer/husband/partner/landlord/tenant. 
TheLawMap: Finally, if you had one wish to change something within the legal profession, what would it be?

The attitude of some lawyers towards women lawyers.

In the words of Lord Denning, who is for many is deemed a judicial saint, considered that:

“No matter how you may dispute and argue, you cannot alter the fact that women are different from men. The principal task in life of women is to bear and rear children: and it is a task which occupies the best years of their lives. The man’s part in bringing up the children is no doubt as important as hers, but of necessity he cannot devote so much time to it. He is physically the stronger and she the weaker. He is temperamentally the more aggressive and she the more submissive. It is he who takes the initiative and she who responds. ...”

It goes on in that vein for some time. And he is generally thought to be one of the good guys!

With special thanks to Barrister Camilla Choudhury Khawaja for her valuable time.

Camilla with her two boys Aman and Aden
Camilla Choudhury Khawaja was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1998 by The Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn, after graduating with a Masters in International and Comparative Law. She began lecturing Law at the University of London in 1999, and continues to do so as a visiting lecturer at the University of Westminster. She maintains an active Twitter presence with a particular interest in women's issues. In conversation with TheLawMap, when asked about hobbies and interests Camilla stated that she adores spending her free time doting after her two young boys. Aman 10 and Aden 7 are politically minded, and pivotal to her work through the Women's Lawyer in that they see their mother as a role model, so it is of even more importance to show them that women are just as smart, able, and indeed as brave as men.