Newsletter – June 2020
Spotlight on… diversity and inclusion
Blackstone Chambers, one of the UK’s leading barristers chambers, and education charity Guy Fox History Project recently published ‘History Rocks: Women in Law’, a book that commemorates the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 and celebrates a century of women in the legal profession.
This book is one of many initiatives that Blackstone have been undertaking, including our Women in Law conferences, and the use of the RARE Contextual Recruitment System for our pupillage and mini-pupillage recruitment processes, to encourage diversity within the legal industry.
What makes this book unique, however, is the creative spark behind it. ‘History Rocks: Women in Law’ was illustrated entirely by children! The book was created in a collaboration that involved Blackstone, the Guy Fox team and children from Snowsfields Primary School.
With the help of Blackstone barristers and staff, the Guy Fox team delivered six classroom workshops to Year 4 students. We also took them to visit the Royal Courts of Justice and the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, where we had an audience with Baroness Hale, its first female president. The experience was one of doors being flung wide open, with legal institutions and judges keen to help participants access and understand the legal world.
The Guy Fox approach is immersive, giving children the chance to grapple with educational topics themselves. During one classroom workshop, for example, we dressed Tom Weisselberg QC in Edwardian costume (including a very uncomfortable moustache) and asked him to embody the attitudes of an Edwardian gentleman.
As he chided the female presenter for wearing trousers, scolded her for working even though she was married, and expressed an out-dated Edwardian view of society, students spontaneously reacted with hisses and boos, then articulated their own arguments for equality. We created an environment and let them draw their own conclusions.
Similarly, when we explored the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Bill, we transformed the classroom into the Houses of Parliament (complete with ceremonial mace and despatch boxes), gave each child a parliamentary role and asked the children to re-enact the legislative process behind the passage of the act.
As one Blackstone volunteer explains: “The vision of Guy Fox is to engage with children at early stages, showing them different aspects of the world through interesting and funny hands-on activities. Children have an extraordinary capacity to absorb information at these ages; Guy Fox provides them with some extra resources to learn and achieve their full potential.”
The workshops also involved lots of drawing! Blackstone volunteers and children sat side-by-side, while a Guy Fox illustrator guided them through the process – drawing various people who work in the legal system, women who’d made legal history and buildings such as the Palace of Westminster and the Supreme Court.
“To illustrate something, you must first really look at it,” says Kourtney Harper, Guy Fox Creative Director. “We are teaching children to use their pencils as a tool to observe the world around them. When you develop observation skills, it adds a life-long learning tool to your toolbox. Plus, you also produce beautiful illustrations!”
A Guy Fox project is lots of fun for everyone, but there is a serious purpose at its heart: the ultimate goal is to remove barriers, create access and raise aspirations.
“We ask volunteers to work with children as colleagues, not superiors,” explains Lana Kamffer, Chair of Guy Fox History Project. “Everyone learns together, exploring the topic together, and contributes as a team to the project goal – the publication of an illustrated book that teaches other children.”
The children definitely embrace this approach. When two Blackstone volunteers were appointed QC, the children took it upon themselves to send them congratulations letters. Their letters weren’t composed as ‘Dear Sir /Madam’ but as equals. Peppered with drawings of the Old Bailey, the Royal Courts of Justice, and cartoons of them in a QC outfit, were messages for their friends – “well done, mate” and “you set yourself a goal and you got it, congratulations”.
The partnership between Blackstone and Guy Fox dates back to 2011, when Olswang LLP (now CMS) brought together Olswang’s lawyers, barristers from Blackstone Chambers and the Guy Fox team for a book that explains the Legal System to children (‘How the World REALLY Works: Our Legal System’).
On that project, we worked with children at John Donne Primary School in Peckham, exploring the history and structure of our Legal System, differentiating between civil and criminal cases, and explaining the different roles of ‘barrister ’and ‘solicitor’.
As with every project, there was role play – moot criminal trials borrowed from the archives at the Old Bailey involving stolen ducks and rabbits, and a human timeline of the history of our Legal System – but the simplest activity had the most profound impact.
During one workshop, a barrister showed his wig and gown to the children. When a child asked, “Can I wear it?” the barrister’s response was not only ‘yes’, but an enthusiastic insistence that EVERY child must try on his wig and gown. He stayed late after the workshop and made sure they all had their photos taken wearing his wig.
Seeing yourself in an advocate’s wig at age nine might just change your view of your own future. The same is true of meeting a barrister, or a Supreme Court judge, and being given the opportunity to work on a creative project together. These are the moments that break down barriers, raise aspirations and help the legal profession to become more reflective of our society.
Blackstone Chambers is honoured to have been a part of these unique and incredibly important projects. It was also a pleasure to work with such curious and enthusiastic young minds, children we believe will now have more understanding of, and passion for, the legal industry. Blackstone look forward to working with Guy Fox again and having a positive impact on the diversification of the legal sector.
If you would like a copy of our ‘History Rocks: Women in Law’ book, please email [email protected].
‘How the World REALLY Works: Our Legal System’ is available to purchase on Amazon.
Kate Gallafent QC and Kourtney Harper