Remembering Rudy Narayan: Blue heritage plaque for SBL co-founder
The following speech was delivered by Raissa Aude Uwineza, National Co-Vice Chair of SBL on Friday 19th November 2010 at a ceremony to unveil a blue heritage plaque to commemorate Rudy Narayan, the barrister, civil rights activist and co-founder of SBL at the site of the offices where he practised law at 413A Brixton Road in Lambeth, South London.
On behalf of the Society of Black Lawyers and as a member of the youth wing of the organisation, I am delighted to be here this evening and to be able to play a part in acknowledging and celebrating the legacy of one of our Founding Fathers, the late Rudy Narayan.
That the Society of Black Lawyers still exists today, more than 40 years after it was co-founded by Mr. Narayan and Sighbat Kadric QC, is a testament to their vision, leadership and the realisation that there was indeed a need for an organisation of committed lawyers, who were interested, not only in their own progress as lawyers but also in the progress of the communities that they came from and ultimately served. At the time, in 1969, the then chairman of the Bar Council called the move divisive, unhelpful, and contrary to the traditions of the Bar. He went on to link the formation of the organisation to a form of ‘legal Apartheid’. The irony of his comments is that prior to 1973, only UK citizens could become solicitors, and therefore, by excluding ethnic minority lawyers on the basis of this citizenship test, the legal profession had itself been operating a form of apartheid for hundreds of years.
Today, the profession has become more diverse. Ethnic minority solicitors now make up 13% of the profession and 24% of all admissions to the Solicitors’ Roll. At the Bar, we make up 16% of all barristers. This progress is in no small part due to the campaigning work of the Society of Black Lawyers. The SBL has provided a progressive lead where other organisations have sought to follow.
That being said, challenges still remain and there is no room for complacency. A recent report, published only last month, into diversity in the legal profession found strong evidence of inequality in terms, conditions and rewards associated with gender, race and ethnicity. The legacy of the legal profession’s white, male elitist origins and the significance of cultural stereotypes continue to persist.
Let us also not forget what the impact of the Coalition Government’s recently announced cuts to the Legal Aid budget will be on ethnic minority communities and their ability to obtain vital legal advice and representation within a publicly funded service that is being butchered by the most savage cuts in its 60 year history. Access to justice and community service have always been cornerstones of the SBL’s body politic. They are fundamental principles upon which Rudy co-founded the organisation.
And now, as we enter a new period in this country’s history that will see us return to the days of state-sanctioned racial profiling via the Coalition Government’s plans to allow police to stop people on the grounds of skin colour, we must ask ourselves whether the factors that gave rise to the creation of the Society of Black Lawyers back in 1969 still remain in 2010. I believe that they do.
The erection of this blue heritage plaque to one of the SBL’s Founding Fathers is our tribute and our legacy. It is our way of saying ‘thank you’. That Rudy Narayan may have left us does not mean that he has been forgotten. His spirit, fearlessness and legal activism continue to inspire us all and his invaluable work of challenging racism, inequality and injustice continues.