Tanya Murshed of 1MCB Chambers has won this year's Sydney Elland Goldsmith Bar Pro Bono Award for her outstanding commitment to assisting vulnerable individuals convicted of capital offences in Uganda over four and a half years on a pro bono basis.
Initially, Tanya's work in Uganda began through the Centre for Capital Punishment Studies, assisting individuals convicted of capital offences with their sentencing hearings. Tanya wrote submissions for approximately 60 individuals potentially facing the death penalty, and no death sentences were passed in any of these cases.
Since then Tanya's key focus in Uganda has been the landmark Supreme Court case of Attorney General v Susan Kigula and 416 others, which held that the automatic death sentence was unconstitutional. As a result, the individuals that were previously subject to the mandatory death sentence were entitled to go back to the High Court and be re-sentenced.
Tanya took a sabbatical from her chambers to volunteer in Uganda in 2013, advocating for these cases to be resentenced. She trained law students in Uganda to collect mitigating evidence, organised training sessions with judges and lawyers on sentencing and international law, and much more.
In 2014 Tanya launched Evolve - Foundation for International Legal Assistance to continue her work. Travelling back to Uganda every few months to continue running the project, she is estimated to spend a quarter of every year doing full time pro bono work. Since then, 243 individuals who were previously subject to the automatic death sentences have received sentences other than death and many have been released as a result of Tanya's work.
Lord Goldsmith QC, the Bar Pro Bono Unit Founder and President, and Chair of the Award judging panel, said:
"Tanya has shown outstanding commitment to a specific issue within a specific region, and has used her legal skills and networks to tackle the challenges within the Ugandan criminal justice system head-on. This is an excellent model for pro bono, and one that deserves recognition in as many ways as possible.
"The statistics used in support of her application - supporting approximately 500 people facing the death penalty; and training 90 members of the legal profession on sentencing and mitigation … are exceptional."
A special commendation has also been awarded this year to Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chair of the Bar Human Rights Committee, in recognition of her outstanding long-term contribution to assisting on human rights issues around the world. This has included interventions on death penalty cases in the Middle East, North Africa and the USA; mediating peace talks between the Colombian Government and the San José de Apartadó peace community and prosecuting cases of child rights abuses in Nigeria.
Lord Goldsmith QC said of Kirsty:
"The breadth and depth of the pro bono work undertaken by Kirsty Brimelow QC, best illustrated by the diversity of the supporting references, demonstrates a career-long commitment spanning continents. Her role at the helm of the Bar Human Rights Committee enables her to nurture an environment that supports pro bono on a global scale, an opportunity she has grasped with both hands."
Lord Goldsmith QC also noted the high calibre of nominations this year across the board.
"Reading through the submissions assures me that the Bar is still an exciting and inspiring place to be.
"This year has been an exceptionally difficult year to choose an overall winner and I, together with my fellow judges, continue to be humbled by the commitment of the nominees to tackling injustice."
Notes to editors
The Bar Pro Bono Unit matches members of the public who are ineligible for legal aid and cannot afford legal help with a barrister. With over 3,800 volunteer barristers on their panel which includes a third of all QCs in England and Wales and after 20 years, the Unit remains one of the few free legal advice charities that covers every area of law, across all courts for members of the public who would otherwise have no avenue to secure access to justice.
Previous award winners have included Sir Keir Starmer KCB, PC, QC and Andrew Walker QC (the Vice-Chair, Bar Council).
Bar Pro Bono Award Judges 2017:
- Lord Goldsmith QC - Chairman of the Judging Panel
- Julie Bishop - Director of the Law Centres Network
- Catherine Calder - Co-Chair of the Legal Practice Management Association
- John Collins - Bar Pro Bono Award 2016 winner
- Sarah Grainger - Editor, Counsel magazine
- Nicholas Hill - Chair of the Institute of Barristers' Clerks
- Andrew Langdon QC - Chair of the Bar
- Duncan McCombe - Chair of the Young Barristers' Committee
- Lucinda Orr - Chairman of the Employed Barristers' Committee
- The Secret Barrister
The full list of nominees can be found on theBar Pro Bono Unit website.