Celebrating Britain's 101 Most Influential Asians 2021

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ANUJA DHIR


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IF ANUJA DHIR were to write an autobiography, a suitable title might be: ‘How to be a Serial Shatterer of Glass Ceilings’. Alternatively, she could call her life story: ‘How a Female Asian Dyslexic Scot became an Old Bailey Judge’, or even: ‘Triumph of a Fourfold Underdog.’

However you look at it, her career has been a victory of ambition, talent, determination and self belief over institutional bias.

She is Britain’s first non-white central criminal court judge, who since 2017 has sat at the Old Bailey as Her Honour Judge Anuja Dhir. She is one of a highly select group of judges able to preside over the most heinous kinds of criminal cases, including murder and terrorism. She is also authorised to try cases that are held ‘in camera’ for reasons of national security.

For someone who was advised by her schoolteachers to become a hairdresser – and was routinely mistaken for a defendant or witness when first called to the bar – Dhir’s climb to the top of the legal tree has been an outstanding personal achievement.

When she entered the profession in 1989, it was dominated overwhelmingly by white public-school educated men with ‘connections.’ On one famous occasion, the court security demanded she produce her wig and gown before agreeing to let her into the building. Most clients did not want “a young, Asian, Scottish female” to represent them, which made it harder to build a client base.

“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 says, recalling the challenges of her early career.

Have things changed for the better in the intervening years? She believes they have, both generally and within the legal

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