We were delighted this week to welcome Professor Leslie Thomas KC to Somerville for an in-conversation event convened by our Professorial Fellow in Law, Professor Iyiola Solanke.

Professor Thomas is a leading advocate in claims against public authorities in which there has been an abuse of state or corporate power. He has appeared in many high-profile cases representing the families of the deceased, including the Birmingham Pub Bombing Inquests and the Grenfell Inquiry. He was awarded Legal Aid Barrister of the Year in 2016 for his work on the Hillsborough disaster, and came to us fresh from an afternoon cross-examining witnesses in the Covid Inquiry.

Last night’s event was entitled ‘Trespasser Syndrome in a Profession Full of Privilege’ and saw Professor Solanke, who is a specialist in anti-discrimination law, use Professor Thomas’ 2022 autobiography ‘Do Right and Fear No One’ as a springboard to discuss key moments in Leslie’s life and career. From his first encounter with gruesome institutional racism at Cubs to navigating the humiliation and abuse of racial profiling as a young Black teenager in Battersea, there was ample opportunity for the young Leslie to form a lifelong mistrust of authority. Instead, we heard how he became a young barrister, angry and impassioned, making mistakes but persevering, and learning gradually to overcome self-doubt and fear so as to fight meaningfully for others.

“My dream is that one day no one will blink an eye when they walk into court and see a Black judge and a Black barrister”

PROF. LESLIE THOMAS

These experiences are distilled in the realisation at the book’s close that, having lived with it so long, Leslie no longer accepts the phrase ‘imposter syndrome’, which implies that the ‘imposter’ is at fault. Instead, he prefers the term ‘trespasser syndrome’, with its connotation that the gatekeepers of power who deny minoritised people access to opportunity are the ones at fault. Leslie’s final word was to encourage young Black men and women to follow him into the law, which is already much more diverse than when he entered the profession. His dream, having been mistaken for ‘anyone but the barrister’ all his life, is that a day will come when no one blinks an eye when they walk into court and see a Black judge or Black counsel. We thank him for joining us.

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