Anuja Dhir: first non-white circuit judge at the Old Bailey

Anuja Dhir: first non-white circuit judge at the Old Bailey

After a career that began with hairdressing advice and often being mistaken for a defendant when she first entered the judiciary, Anuja Dhir is now the first non-white circuit judge to sit at the Old Bailey.

As she took up her new role, Dhir revealed the struggles that came with being an Asian, female barrister at the start of her career.

“I got used to turning up at courts and people saying to me ‘Witness?’ – no – ‘Defendant?’ – no; and looking rather surprised when I said I was the advocate,” she has said.

On one occasion, she was even asked to show her wig and gown before security allowed her into the courtroom. “Added to that, most clients did not want a young, Asian, Scottish female representing them, so that made it harder for me to build a client base,” she continued.

The tables have now turned, and many defendants will now want to be in Dhir’s good books as she dons the robes of a circuit judge at the Old Bailey. She is not only the first non-white person but also the youngest to ever fill the role.

It was a difficult path for her as a dyslexic Dundee schoolgirl, the 49-year-old has admitted. Teachers initially advised her to stick with hairdressing.

When she was first called to the bar in 1989, most barristers were white men from public schools who already had “some connection” to the profession. “My daughter, it would never cross her mind being treated differently because she’s a female or because she’s not white, whereas in my generation we did,” she has commented.

“We were surprised when people didn’t treat us differently. Not now, but when I came to the bar, I was not expecting to be treated like a white Oxbridge male at all. I’m often asked if there is a glass ceiling. I think sometimes there are two ceilings – or no glass ceiling at all. There is one glass ceiling that’s in our minds, that’s what we think we can achieve, so perhaps we impose our glass ceiling and that has happened to me several times.”

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