With a New Year comes renewed cautious hope—an opportunity to harness energies for positivity and change. With that spirit, I am delighted to pick up the reins as the new Chair for Bar Human Rights Committee in the knowledge that 2019 will continue to present fundamental challenges for human rights across the world.
As the global narrative becomes dominated by angry voices shouting against principles seemingly long established, the role of lawyers becomes ever more critical. A vital aspect of our work as lawyers is to promote, protect and uphold the rule of law. The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers places particular emphasis on the role of lawyers as “essential agents of the administration of justice” and states that lawyers “shall seek to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by national and international law.”
2018 witnessed both a real and rhetorical slide in the rule of law across the world, and BHRC faced urgent demand for our ability to produce high-quality, independent trial monitoring and observations, amicus curiae, training and statements of concern. In 2019, we anticipate that the demand for these essential protections will continue to rise.
One of the most pressing issues of our time relates to refugees and migration. As fear and panic are promoted over dignity and safety by leaders around the world, so the plight of these deeply vulnerable groups of people grows more intense and precarious. The situation grows increasingly dramatic, but the voices of those who are suffering are rarely heard. BHRC is building partnerships to continue and deepen our work in these urgent areas.
In her last newsletter as Chair (here), Kirsty Brimelow QC set out some of the strengths of our work last year as well as the partnerships which enable and allow us to continue that work.
These are my early days as Chair, and I would like to build and strengthen on those partnerships as well as create new ones. I would also like to thank Kirsty for the enormous work and effort she put in to growing BHRC into the organisation that it is today.
So, in the spirit of this New Year, I would like to invite members to write to us at coordination@barhumanrights.
I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible over the coming year and to using our collective ethos and commitment as lawyers to work for those who have no voice, and very often, no freedom.
As we have just marked 70 years since the UN Declaration of Human Rights was proclaimed as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, I am reminded of the words which speak to all of us, as lawyers:
“… it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…”
BHRC, through the tireless work of its members and partners, strives towards that goal. We recognise that commitments by barristers to do more pro bono work can be challenging in times when such services are in high demand. We ask of you, then, to do what you can, be it a few hours of work per year or spreading the word and encouraging your colleagues to sign up and work with us, too.
2019 promises to be challenging. BHRC is ready to meet that challenge, and we hope you will join us as we do.
Schona Jolly QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales
Schona Jolly QC, our new Chair, is on sabbatical in January and February 2019. New Co Vice-Chair Steve Cragg QC is Acting Chair over that period. Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh continues as Co Vice-Chair alongside him. Gráinne Mellon is elected as the new Secretary. Michael Ivers QC continues as Membership Secretary, and Jodie Blackstock continues as Treasurer. The dedicated Executive Committee remain in position for another year.