Interview

Snap election series: The bar is ‘excellent groundwork’ for life as an MP, says lawyer turned Conservative candidate

By on
32

Suella Fernandes shares her thoughts from the campaign trail

Barack Obama, Sadiq Khan, Marine Le Pen — former lawyers make up some of the biggest names in world politics, and many more are running for election on 8 June. Did you know Chuka Umunna, Keir Starmer, Bob Neill, Emily Thornberry and Nicola Sturgeon are all qualified solicitors or barristers? There are other names to add to the list, and we wanted to meet them. In the first piece in our snap election series, we speak to Suella Fernandes, a former barrister who is running for re-election this summer.

From constitutional law to a Hampshire constituency, Suella Fernandes makes transitioning from law to politics sound seemless.

“Being a barrister and being an MP are quite similar,” she says. “You take on the casework of your constituents just as you handle cases as a barrister. You are dealing with people who are wanting to challenge decisions, who are asking for help to get better housing or get a decision about their child’s special needs reversed. I have to be their advocate and argue their case for them.”

The current Conservative candidate for Fareham in Hampshire once practised judicial review, planning and immigration law at No5 Chambers before switching to being an MP after her success in the 2015 election.

Then, Fernandes won 56.1% of the vote with a majority of 22,262. She is running again in 2017, hoping to continue her tenure in Fareham for the next five years.

Fernandes says that there are other matching skills too where being a barrister has given her some great experience to rely on: “It’s about knowing how to scrutinise legislation. We are given draft laws by government and we have to be able to look at it line by line and focus in on particular wording and so on. A barrister background is fantastic for that.”

Of course MPs come from all walks of life — such as business, teaching and so on — and Fernandes says that legal skills are not the crux of it. She thinks:

If you have empathy and you want to make a contribution to society and are really passionate about politics, then you will be a great candidate.

The 37-year-old’s legal education began at Queens’ College, Cambridge which was, she says, “a great privilege” not least because supervision was so “distinctive”. There were small groups of students for each tutor so undergrads were getting “very intensive face time” with an expert. Fernandes says this gave her “confidence in asking questions and presenting yourself.”

A fluent French speaker, Fernandes also spent a year out as part of the Erasmus scheme at the University of Poitiers in France. She feels this was “the best year of my whole student experience, immersed in a new culture, in a different — and very international — society.”

Her undergrad studies in constitutional and administrative law sowed the seeds for her interest in politics but also helped her in a more direct, practical way (which is good to know for anyone who sometimes wonders ‘what is the point of all this studying?’). As a practising barrister, something she successfully did for a decade or so, Fernandes says that there were times when she “dusted off my text books and my undergrad notes to help me with a case!”

Despite being a sitting Conservative MP, the snap election came as a surprise to Fernandes (so it was not just the rest of us, then!). But she is fully confident in the PM and her team.

As an MP, Fernandes has had the opportunity to work on issues which concern and interest her — that is the privilege of being in parliament. As part of that, she has been campaigning for family justice reform. She recently presented a private members bill on this.

She explains: “In private law cases, for instance, fathers are often air-brushed out of the lives of their children because court orders dealing with access and arrangements are often ignored by the mother; and then the courts don’t enforce the original orders.”

The bill has come to a standstill as parliament has now been dissolved to make way for the election; that is, perhaps, the more frustrating side of politics.

A political life does appear to have started pretty early for Fernandes. She was active in her university and a member of its Conservative association. For any law student who is similarly gripped by a political life, Fernandes has this to say:

[Student politics] is a great way to learn more about a life in Westminster. Joining a party is a great first step. You learn a lot about the party and you make great friends. Some of those friends I made then are now in parliament with me. Take on a role, support other people, join campaigns and put yourself forward. Or get involved with think tanks and policy work.

For all the latest commercial awareness info, and advance notification of Legal Cheek’s careers events, sign up to the Legal Cheek Hub here.

32 Comments

Anonymous

“She explains: “In private law cases, for instance, fathers are often air-brushed out of the lives of their children because court orders dealing with access and arrangements are often ignored by the mother; and then the courts don’t enforce the original orders.””

Polly, this is a progressive website. Talking about issues which negatively affect men is strictly forbidden. Please step into my office. Now!

(19)(3)

Anonymous

Progressive? She is a tory lol. What e

(7)(3)

Anonymous

Did you know that “diversity” is a code-word for “anti-white”?

Did you know that Katie?

(7)(2)

Anonymous

Oh hush! did you know that you’re an annoying twat?

…well did you??

(2)(11)

Alan P

Butthurt lefite

(5)(5)

Second-year law student

I have to say I think law students should get involved in student politics more because law and government & politics are closely intertwined. Besides it’a informative and educational – win win!

(1)(3)

Anonymous

Strong contender for most boring comment of the year

(13)(0)

Tim

Bizarre that she’s a Tory and says this:

“Being a barrister and being an MP are quite similar,” she says. “You take on the casework of your constituents just as you handle cases as a barrister. You are dealing with people who are wanting to challenge decisions, who are asking for help to get better housing or get a decision about their child’s special needs reversed. I have to be their advocate and argue their case for them.”

It’s the Tories who voted down legislation to make housing fir for human habitation:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tories-vote-down-law-requiring-landlords-make-their-homes-fit-for-human-habitation-a6809691.html

It’s the Tories who have been found by the United Nations to have carried out ‘grave and systematic abuses’ against disabled people:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/un-report-disability-disabled-rights-violating-austerity-welfare-reform-esa-pip-a7404956.html

She’s bust fire-fighting the problems that this Tory government caused in the first place.

I can only guess that this is another example of Conservative cognitive dissonance.

(11)(14)

Anonymous

I for one am glad they voted the first one down. Living in a house of fir is not only impractical (cleaning would be a nightmare) it is also cruel and unnecessary to kill so many animals.

(7)(2)

Anonymous

Haha. Good response to Tim the Troll (who must have been on a very middle-class holiday the last couple of weeks) .

(5)(2)

Tim

I’m not a troll. If you keep saying that I’m going to cry.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

What counts as a middle-class holiday? I went to an all-inclusive resort in Spain last summer – would that be middle-class?

(3)(2)

Holiday Expert

It depends what class of all-inclusive resort and where in Spain, but on the face of it, it does not seem like you went on a middle-class holiday. Usually Spain is pretty trashy and the all-inclusive element sounds like it was the equivalent of a Toby Carvery.

Usually most places in Europe are seen by the middle-classes as low key holiday destinations that you may or may not tell your friends about. If you aren’t going to somewhere far flung in Asia, to the Caribbean or somewhere flash in South America then the holiday is boring and definitely not worthy of dinner party conversation. Even if you are going to these kinds of calibre of destinations then you need to be staying in luxury accommodation and not in backpacker-type jaunts (or areas).

Keep it classy.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Ha, thank for the advice Holiday Expert.

Are you a travel agent by any chance? Only because your brilliant false dichotomy of luxury accommodation v backpacker jaunts is typical of your Carl from Thomas Cook trying to flog the most expensive package.

The resort we stayed in was 4*, but now I recognise that it was in no way middle class. Will start saving now for the Maldives.

(0)(0)

Holiday Expert

I do not just try to flog the most expensive package. I try to flog the most expensive package that the customer in question can afford. Given the fact that this website relates to the legal profession I need to pitch quite high. If Bav who works for Poundland walked in to my office then perhaps an all-inclusive in Spain would be where I would pitch it. But only a 3* for Bav, he isn’t quite at your 4* standard.

Hit me up when you have about £8k in the bank (but ideally 12k) and we can talk Maldives – you haven’t lived until you have been there. Truly magical.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Lol don’t know what that says about the impression my parents give to travel agents.

Anything over £1k is a hell of a lot for a holiday for me. See you in 2027 to book that once in a lifetime!

Anonymous

Mostly true, but you’ve over looked some details. If you are staying at a vegan-only luxury yoga retreat in the hills of northern Spain, or staying at a conservation focussed resort in Tuscany where you press your own olive oil then this is worth bragging about and therefore satisfy your definition of middle class.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Good point. A fancy wine tour round Bordeaux region and staying at one of those Italian lakes also worth bragging about.

(1)(0)

Second-year law student

Really glad legal cheek are doing a snap election series – can’t wait to read the rest of the articles & attend the election debate @ Shearman…. LC are always ahead of the game love it!

(2)(11)

Anonymous

Hi Alex!

(5)(0)

Tim

Bizarre that she’s a Tory and says this:

“Being a barrister and being an MP are quite similar,” she says. “You take on the casework of your constituents just as you handle cases as a barrister. You are dealing with people who are wanting to challenge decisions, who are asking for help to get better housing or get a decision about their child’s special needs reversed. I have to be their advocate and argue their case for them.”

It’s the Tories who voted down legislation to make housing fir for human habitation:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/tories-vote-down-law-requiring-landlords-make-their-homes-fit-for-human-habitation-a6809691.html

It’s the Tories who have been found by the United Nations to have carried out ‘grave and systematic abuses’ against disabled people:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/un-report-disability-disabled-rights-violating-austerity-welfare-reform-esa-pip-a7404956.html

She’s just fire-fighting the problems that this Tory government caused in the first place.

(4)(4)

Left is best

Totally agree. Looks like she is in the wrong party, fighting for a horrible cause. This is a horrible country, all those Brexit voters, all those pretty-much-racist tory voters. Horrible state of affairs.

(9)(4)

Anonymous

Ooh, look at me doing so much for this country behind the veil of anonymity and without giving any facts to justify my prejudiced views. If only there were more people like you around…

(3)(3)

Anonymous

You mean facts like the UN finding that the UK has committed ‘grave and systematic’ abuses against disabled people?

(1)(0)

Not Amused

The UN didn’t do anything.

What happens when Labour is out of power is that the many people who might have found employment inside the Labour government flood out in to certain jobs. This is rather heavily weighted towards charities and international organisations. It is currently a problem in the UN (with staffers producing nonsense reports with some regularity).

It is an extremely boring political trick. We give money to support the UN in order to prevent WW3. It’s really not on to then abuse it for party political gain.

(3)(5)

Anonymous

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (in common with most UN committees as far as I am aware) is composed of representatives of a different member states. Normally representatives don’t get involved in reports about their own state.

You do not actually indicate that the Committee’s analysis of the effects of welfare reforms is in any way incorrect.

In fairness to you, I do understand the appeal of uninformed yet clever-sounding comments, especially where they are dismissive of respected institutions with significant expertise.

(6)(1)

Left is best

If the Tories had their way they would set the same dogs on the disabled as they do the foxes. They have no class and no compassion. They’d probably try and tax the families for the costs of disposing of the bodies and in turn introduce tax breaks so their mates could pay less tax on income from their 3rd homes. Disgusting.

(4)(0)

Tim

Not Amused doesn’t see disabled people as ‘proper’ human beings, so he’ll automatically dismiss any organisation that reports that disabled people have had their human rights abused, no matter how universal, official and respected that organisation is.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

Yes you’re right. Every UN agency is staffed entirely by millions of far left Labour supporting teenagers. Such valuable insight as always.

(1)(0)

Charles Bronson, Broadmoor.

Student politics is the best way to become insane, just like this beautiful site , so wonderfully rich in insanity. Keep it up LC . We love you.

(1)(1)

Barrister

I had a trial against Suella once. Nice woman, I wish her well.

(0)(2)

Anonymous

More Oxbridge privilege seeking to rule us. Guided by a sense of entitlement.

(1)(0)

Comments are closed.