Patricia Scotland QC

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This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in August 2007. Read more about Patricia Scotland QC in the Directory

Our Lawyer of the Month is Patricia Scotland QC whose full title is Baroness Scotland of Asthal. On 28 June 2007 she made legal history yet again when the new Prime Minister, Gordon Brown appointed her as the Attorney General. She is the first ethnic minority and the first female to assume the post.

She is proposing reform of the 500-year-old office to make it “fit for the 21st century” as outlined by her in a consultation paper as the Government’s recognise that there is a need for greater transparency. Patricia said that  she had taken on the post in June on the understanding that the review was a first priority.

As Attorney General, she is the Government’s chief law officer and may have to explain before Parliament the legal basis for going to war in Iraq, under the reforms proposed on 25 July. She could give up any role in deciding prosecutions – including the long-running cash-for-honours case. She could also give up regular attendance at Cabinet meetings and hand over the role of giving legal advice to ministers to an independent lawyer.

According to Patricia the proposals present “a unique and exciting opportunity to examine the role and to see whether what we now have is a construct that is the best we can devise for the 21st century,” she said. While there was a need to be bold, only changes that were merited and would enhance the rule of law and the administration of justice would be made.

Pending the consultation, she said, it would be “business as usual” and she would continue to sit in the Cabinet and superintend the prosecuting authorities. But in one departure, she would step aside from and have no role in any prosecution decision, pending the outcome of the review.

Patricia was born in Dominica to Antiguan and Dominican parents in 1955. Her family – she is the tenth of 12 children - moved to Walthamstow when she was two. She attended Walthamstow High School for Girls and graduated from London University in 1976. She was called to the Bar in 1977, specialising in family and public law. She is also a member of the Bar in Antigua and Dominica .

She distinguished herself at the Bar and was a founder member and former Head of Chambers of 1 Gray's Inn Square . She chaired and represented parties in a number of major inquiries relating to Child Abuse, Mental Health and Housing. 

In 1991 she made legal history when she became the first black female QC and one of the youngest ever QCs at the age of 35. She was appointed an Assistant Recorder (a part-time judge) in 1994 and a Recorder in 2000. Patricia  was approved to sit as a Deputy High Court Judge of the Family Division by the then Tory Government under John Major but was swiftly made a Minister by Tony Blair following the Labour Party’s success in the 1997 general election.

She was made a bencher of the Middle Temple in 1997 and in the same year was created a peer as Baroness Scotland of Asthal, in the County of Oxfordshire and appointed to the House of Lords. She was raised to the Privy Council in 2001.

Between 1999 and 2001 Patricia was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and between 2001 and 2003 she was the Parliamentary Secretary at the Lord Chancellor’s Department. She was an Alternate UK Government Representative of the European Convention from 2002 to 2003.

Patricia became the Home Office Minister of State for Criminal Justice System and Law Reform in June 2003 and in May 2005, the Home Office Minister for Criminal Justice System and Offender Management.  She was the spokesperson for the DTI on Women and Equality Issues in the House of Lords.

Patricia has received numerous awards and commendations. She was voted one of the top 100 Black Britons and the Black Woman of the Year (Law) in 1992. She was the Peer of the Year in the House Magazine 2004 Awards, Peer of the Year in the Channel 4 Political Awards 2004, Parliamentarian of the Year in the Political Studies Association Awards 2004 and The Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year Awards 2005. She is an Honorary Fellow of The Society for Advanced Legal Studies; Wolfson College , Cambridge and of Cardiff University . She has an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Westminster , the University of Buckingham , the University of Leicester and the University of East London .

Patricia is also a Dame of the Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint George, a patron of The Margaret Beaufort Institute, GAP, The Frank Longford Charitable Trust, sponsor of the George Viner Memorial Fund Trust and is on the Advisory Panel of the British American Project. She is a member of the Thomas More Society, The All Parliamentary Group on Breast Cancer, The Parliamentary Labour Party Women's Group, the House of Lords All Party Parliamentary London Group, the All Party Parliamentary Group of CAFOD, The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children and the Patron of the Women and Children's Welfare Fund.

Her former posts and membership were numerous but include being one of Her Majesty's Commissioners for Racial Equality, membership of the Bar Public Relations Committee, Race Relations Committee, Professional Conduct Committee, Judicial Studies Board Ethnic Minority Advisory Committee, House of Commons Working Party on Child Abduction, Legal Advisory Panel on the National Consumer Council and the National Advisory Committee on Mentally Disordered Offenders. 

Patricia is a committed Christian and a member of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship and she is on the All Party Parliamentary Lords’ Prayer Group.

She is married to Richard Mawhinney, who is also a barrister, and they have two sons.

Below was our interview with Patricia in April 2006 when she was our Lawyer of the Month in May 2006.

BLD : What was your route into the legal profession?
PS:  I passed my Exams!!

BLD : If you were to choose a profession other than law, what would it be and why?
PS:  I chose law because I could make a difference with it and solve problems which would change people’s lives. Anything else I did after that would have to achieve the same objectives.

BLD : What was the best career advice you were given?
PS:  Never become a Minister of State!

BLD : What is the best career advice you would give to other lawyers and budding lawyers?
PS:  Have Courage – It is the best career in the world.

BLD : Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive)?
PS:  Martin Luther King

BLD : Your professional high point(s) and why?
PS:  Introducing legislation to tackle International Child Abduction, Forced Marriage and Domestic Violence. The contribution I have been able to make to Family Law and Public Law in these areas has been greatly rewarding – particularly through involvement in Child Abuse and Mental Health Act inquiries.

BLD : What was your most famous/interesting case(s) handled to date?
PS:  Jasmine Beckford,
North Wales Child Abuse Inquiry, Tyre Henry, Ashworth Mental Health Act, Kimberley Carlisle .

BLD : What are you most passionate/happiest about?
PS:  Human Rights.

BLD : What are your dislikes?
PS:  Rudeness. Lack of consideration and compassion.

BLD : Any professional regrets?
PS:  None, thankfully.

BLD : If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
PS:  Everything!!

BLD : It is a little known fact that you….
PS:  Love to Dance.

BLD : Do tell us more about yourself and your family.
PS:  I am one of 12 children – 10 of whom were born in the
West Indies.