Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Passing the U. K. Bar at 18: Gabrielle Turnquest

Florida has been in the news quite a bit lately and none of the reports were positive. Restrictive voting decisions, the Trayvon Martin murder trial, and failure to expand health care for citizens through Obamacare make the state seem unresponsive to those in need of assistance. But if you look over the pond to the United Kingdom, one Florida woman has made history.

Gabrielle Turnquest, from Windermere, FL, has become the youngest person to qualify as a barrister in the U. K. Demonstrating her superior academic prowess, she was called to the Bar of England and Wales after passing her exams with flying colors at just age 18. What makes this achievement extraordinary is that the average lawyer undertakes the rigorous Bar Professional Training Course when they are 27, according to University of Law records.  Gabrielle took the course , along with her older sister Kandi, who passed the exams at the age of 22.

"It is even more significant that she's (Gabrielle) is a person of color", says  Dr. Peter Herbert O.B.E., chair of Society of Black Lawyers, the oldest organization of minority lawyers in the U. K.  About 14 percent of African-Caribbeans and Asians qualifying as barristers. It is traditionally been one of the most segregated professions in the country. The Society of Black Lawyers was set up some 40 years ago because of "de facto apartheid in the legal system where the majority of minorities couldn't get a pupillage, the final stage of training to be a practicing barrister. If Gabrielle wants to pursue a career as a barrister in the U. K., she will still have to carry out a pupillage at chambers for at least a year and then be granted a tenancy.

Gabrielle's parents hail from the Bahamas which enabled her to take the British exam. She eventually hopes to work in the Bahamas as a fashion law specialist. She plans to qualify as a lawyer in the U. S. In the U. K. there are two types of lawyers: barristers who stand before a judge and represent clients in courts, and solicitors who put cases together working out of a law firm.

Courtenay Griffiths QC, a prominent, Jamaican-born, London-based British barrister was called to the Bar in 1980. He tells us that despite increases in women and minorities being called to the Bar, they tend to be concentrated in publicly funded work. Privately funded portfolios, Griffiths says, tend to be skewed toward "Public school educated or Oxbridge graduates" and "black faces there are still very much scarce."

"The nearer you get to the power and money the fewer of us (minorities) you'll see. So commercial law, for instance, is particularly restricted," said Dr. Peter Herbert.

Best of luck to Gabrielle and her sister Kandi in their chosen endeavors.

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