Solicitor Baljinder Singh Atwal reflects on the recent appointments of Law Society President Lubna Shuja and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Growing up in a very warm, welcoming, multi-cultural British society, I could still never imagine seeing someone that looked like me apply or even become Prime Minister. On 25 October 2022 Rishi Sunak became the first British Asian, first non-white and first ethnic minority person to become Prime Minister.
Even more fitting, was that on this same day, many Sikhs, Hindus, Jains and indeed many more people from all backgrounds and religions across the world celebrated Diwali and Bandi Chhor Diwas. The celebration of light, liberation and justice. Such a unique moment and milestone took place on a day that was already meaningful and special to so many. The route to the top job is not without scrutiny of course, with debate around legitimacy and calls for a general election from the opposition party. This together with the backdrop of economic uncertainty, the energy crisis, the impact of war and more adds to the complex picture of how Sunak became our leader.
Just two weeks prior to this on 12 October, history was also made in a similar vein. Lubna Shuja became the first British Asian President of The Law Society. The legal profession historically and currently is criticised for its lack of progress in many different areas concerning diversity and inclusion. Whether that is the lack of representation in senior roles, gender pay gaps, ethnicity pay gaps, poor retention rates and more. For Shuja to become the first British Asian President is remarkable, considering the number of hurdles not only to get into the profession but also to flourish. Added to this achievement is that Shuja is a sole practitioner and calls Birmingham home and as a lawyer that has seen the profession led from and been very London centric, it’s extremely refreshing to see it being led out of somewhere other than the capital. For lawyers across the nation, this shows you can achieve great things, regardless of where you are in the country and what area of law you practice.
Time will tell as to how successful and how much of an impact any new leader will have, but to be an ethnic minority person in Britain and be part of the legal profession, it has been absolutely incredible to see this change. The feelings and experience of these times reminded me of the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. I remember the feeling of change, optimism and positivity. Now in 2022, this very much feels like our ‘Obama’ moment. Can one person change so much? Practically no, but what they can do is provide a very tangible and memorable achievement which will inspire and ignite passion in new generations.
It’s incredible to think within the legal profession and the world of politics, we have people from ethnic minority backgrounds which are in the highest ranked positions. I hope these historic events are more than symbolic changes. I hope these moments really change our narrative and culture in society. I want these historic changes to really create a wave of enthusiasm and ambition for all. For me it has opened up a whole new understanding of what can be achieved and shattered any previous glass ceilings.
Baljinder Singh Atwal is a solicitor at West Midlands Police and co-chair of the Birmingham Solicitors’ Group. You can follow him on Twitter.