“I SETTLED on a life of crime, “ confessed judge Anuja Dhir of the Old Bailey in a recent address to an audience at her alma mater, Dundee. The University was awarding her an honorary doctorate in recognition of her nonpareil achievements, not the which was becoming the UK’s first-ever non-white central criminal court justice.
As a dyslexic schoolgirl with a straight-As big sister, Dhir’s fate was not as set in stone as it might now appear. She was told by a teacher to look at hair-dressing as a career, but instead she raised her grades and arrived at university at 16, where she decided to read both English and Scottish law – Dundee being the only Scottish institution offering that combination.
Destiny had cast its first rune.
As an Asian girl in 1970s Scotland, Dhir cannot recollect much experience of personal racism. “We were not made to feel and did not feel that we were different or discriminated against,” she says.
Rather, the bias she noticed was institutional, legal. For example, her mother had to resign as a school teacher when she fell pregnant and needed some time off. Later, she had to start from scratch again by applying for jobs elsewhere, her old one having been given away. Her mother eventually found a position, but only one much further away from home.
Dhir sees that society has changed for the better. “What a contrast to the way I was treated,” she reflects. “When I had my first child, my place in chambers was kept open for me, and I was given financial help when I returned to work.” Now a mother of three, she sits near the apex of the legal world.
Racial as well as sexual equality has improved, with enlightened and strong laws encouraging society’s attitudes.