Move over Ally McBeal, Bahra’s arrived with all the millennial substance and grit. Working for a leading Barristers Chambers - 2 Hare Court – named as premier chambers in the UK, the vivacious yet incisive criminal defence lawyer is a head-turning, gathering force in her profession. A highly sought-after junior, she has dealt with some of the most high-profile cases in the country. These include the Graff jewellery robbery of 2009 which was the biggest multimillion diamond heist in UK history, and more recently the Bedford shooting. She was named leading individual (2017) by the official Legal 500 team and was granted the Excellence in Law Award in 2015. However more than a stellar record, the outspoken Bahra values the simultaneous social statement she has been able to make with her phenomenal career. A petite (5”3) Asian woman fighting in a predominantly white middle class profession, she has broken through a proverbial multi-layered glass ceiling: “it is hard enough to achieve the bar for young women,” she stated, “because gender and ethnic prejudices are still so rife, and this is especially true of serious criminal and complex fraud cases. There aren’t that many diverse prominent role models: the general stereotype of a middle aged white man to represent those accused of serious crime while female defence lawyers are generically pigeonholed into rape and sexual assault cases. That’s why you see a lot of female representation at the junior end of the bar, but not in the more senior roles. Factor in the long working hours and self employment when it comes to maternity leave, and the drop-out factor is shocking. This is why I’m so passionate about my mentoring for the up and coming skilled women of the future. 20 years on, and my skills are finally being acknowledged , but I know that if I had received internal support earlier, I could have had achieved the success in half the time! More women need to be encouraged by each other, and of course, by an accommodating system itself.”
Bahra is also one of the few barristers to have studied at a state school within her prestigious Chambers. Fortunate enough to have achieved a scholarship to train as a barrister after finishing university to go to bar school, she reflected: “I remember going to my school careers fair, and they were offering catering courses! It was my father who said: “just become a barrister!” I had to aspire to be what I wanted to be and be guided by a television program called Crown Court.” But Bahra isn’t entirely dismissive of dramatic influence: “honestly, I feel it’s as much personality and confident presentations in the court room that achieves high rate of success in these criminal cases. It is theatre to an extent; you only have so many possible facts, but the combination of the judges, jury and defendants are always varied. You therefore have to know how to bring a personal and personable dimension.” Now, a director as part of her own law firm, Garrick Law, which addresses the gap in the market whereby professionals can be advised and advocated when accused of serious crimes, from murder and armed robberies to drug cartels and conspiracies, to preserve their hard-earned reputations, and having appeared on Sky News to give comment on the internationally reverberating Weinstein case, the legally binding Bahra doesn’t just prove that every woman can excel in an influential position, but should be unapologetic as she does so. “I took a stand and said no to just taking on any case without direction,” Bahra aptly added. “Though at the time, as a self-employed professional, this hit me financially, it was worth the pay off. So many women put their dreams on hold because they think they are obliged to do so. It was the best decision. I was able to carve out a noteworthy niche for myself. Take a risk; only you can do right by yourself.”
Name another memorable case so far?
No one day is ever the same, but there was a case in which my ethnicity came into play. There was an Indian masseuse who was charged with sexual assault, and his defence was that an Ayurvedic massage is very different from a European one so in order to demonstrate this to the jury, I asked permission for a mannequin to be brought into court so the poor solicitor had to get one of those blow up dolls – Anne I think we called it! I then showed how the Ayurvedic technique involves one smooth move of the hand continuously over the body. It’s not like the usual European massage. I had to think outside of the box, really showing the court as well as explaining to them. My client was acquitted.
How do you reconcile your strong investment in human rights with the idea of committing to an individual, no matter the circumstance?
Well, with the starting point that everyone is entitled to a fair trial. It is not my place to second guess integrity. I defend clients because that’s my job. The prosecution will fight just as fiercely. It’s got to be clinical to a certain extent as if a doctor’s duty. Where this person is spends the next part of their life is usually all on you! You play a crucial part in their oncoming fate.
You do handle a lot of high profile cases, as well as the stresses of being a modern career woman, with other women’s stresses on top of that. How do you wind down?
Exercise and my two boys. Just spending time with the boys is grounding in itself; they don’t care about who you are or your status, you’re simply their mum.
It actually forges a work-life balance.
My partner is also very supportive. It helps so much.
Is it possible to over-prepare for a case?
When I was training, I was given a copy of the Art of War so no! You need to know your enemy; namely the prosecution case. You need to be able to be flexible in your approach if the situation calls for it.
What is the favourite part of the job?
I’m a criminal defence barrister so hearing that Not Guilty verdict when the client gets acquitted.
Name three important skills that young and aspiring barristers should know but are not educated on enough?
Respect everybody in court whether it’s the security guard or the judge; court etiquette and court dress is significant because you are standing as a good role model and how you are perceived is crucial. It’s not just what you say, it’s how you present yourself. Finally; perseverance. The first few years you work really hard, and no one acknowledges you – you might be earning very little but you’ve got to see it through.
Ok – a fun last question. Are there any legal tv shows you like watching?
The Good Wife and Orange is the New Black. Both are really spot on, and address the individual issues female lawyers and convicts face. Suits is fun, but it’s too perfect. Life isn’t like that!