Shah Qureshi

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This was a BLD interview with Debo Nwauzu in February 2010. Read more about Shah Qureshi in the Directory

Our Lawyer of the Month is Shah Qureshi, a partner and Head of the Employment Department at Bindmans, one of the UK’s top Human Rights law firms.

Shah was born in Winchester in 1970 and remembered being the only Asian at his school in Winchester. He read Law at Essex University between 1988 and 1991. He was the Vice-President (Information) of the university’s Students' Union between 1991 and 1992, when he was also on sabbatical.

Shah’s legal background began in the voluntary sector and he was at the North Lambeth Citizen Advice Bureau (CAB) until1994. He joined the Kentish Town CAB in 1994 until 1996 when he left for the Tower Hamlets Law Centre. In 2000 he joined Christian Fisher (now Christian Khan) where he was trained largely by Sadiq Khan (now a Member of Parliament for Tooting since May 2005 and the Minister of State for Transport since June 2009) and to a lesser extent, Louise Christian.  At the end of 2002 Shah joined Hodge Jones & Allen. In June 2004 he joined Webster Dixon as its Head of Employment and became a partner shortly after.

He is listed as a Band 1 leader in the field of Employment Law by the 2010 Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession and is described as “highly sought after”. He is also listed by the Legal 500 2009 as a leader in the fields of Employment Law and Professional Discipline, where he is cited as an “excellent negotiator”.

Shah’s particular expertise is representing claimants who are typically executives and professionals in both contentious and non-contentious employment and discrimination laws. He is increasingly well-known for his success in discrimination and whistle-blowing cases against large corporations and public bodies. His clients also include national charities, local authorities, companies and Members of Parliament.

Shah was the solicitor for Tim Nicholson in November 2009 in the landmark case of Nicholson v Grainger plc where the Employment Appeal Tribunal ruled that green beliefs are protected by the UK’s discrimination laws. (In this case Mr Nicholson’s belief about the need to protect against climate change by taking steps to protect the environment for the benefit of future generations, was held to be capable of protection.) Mr Nicholson was Head of Sustainability at Grainger plc - the UK's biggest residential landlord – but was made redundant in July 2008. He claimed his “green” beliefs had contributed to the firm’s decision. The decision also set guidelines as to what philosophical beliefs are capable of protection, including Socialism, Communism and even a deeply-held belief in Capitalism. Shah was named Times Lawyer of the Week in November 2009 for his work on the case.

Another of Shah’s landmark cases was acting for Derek Pasquill in his unfair dismissal and whistle-blowing case against the Foreign Office and Commonwealth Office. Mr Pasquill, a Foreign Office official, was acquitted of six charges of making disclosures damaging to international relations under Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act 1989 but was nevertheless dismissed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

He recently achieved a successful settlement for Professor Heather van der Lely, an internationally acclaimed scientist and academic, in her six-figure whistle-blowing claim against University College London in which she raised issues regarding the health and safety of children and alleged breaches of the Data Protection Act.

He is a board member of the Discrimination Law Association and a member of the Muslim Council of Britain’s Legal Affairs Committee and the Employment Lawyers’ Association. He also acts as an adviser to the London Voluntary Services Council and a number of Members of Parliament and is a former visiting lecturer in employment law at London Metropolitan University. Shah is author of the Equal Opportunities chapter of Tolley's Employment and Personnel Procedures and has also written articles for a various publications.

Shah is married with a six-year-old son.

Below is our interview with Shah.

BLD: Why did you choose a legal career?
SQ:  My first real taste of the law was through watching the Hollywood blockbuster Gandhi. I saw that change for the better could be achieved despite great injustice. Through my campaign work for various organisations, I became aware that lawyers were often at the cutting edge of things.

BLD: If you were to choose another role/profession other than law, what would it be and why?
SQ: If I had an ounce of scientific knowledge I would have been an explorer or a wildlife conservationist. I was captivated by the recent BBC programme Lost Land of the Volcano featuring the giant woolly rat.

BLD: What was the best career advice you were given?
SQ: Talk to others who have joined the profession before doing so yourself. Learn about the profession you want to go into to see if it is for you. Learn from your mistakes.


BLD: What was the worst career advice you were given?
SQ: At school, like many BME pupils, I was advised not to set my sights too high. I was lucky to have parents who believed otherwise.       
                               
BLD: What career advice would you give to others?
SQ:   The same advice that I was given. It is also important not to underestimate the importance of mentors. Work hard and be bold in what you do.

BLD: Who is the person you most admire (dead or alive) and why?
SQ:   After a certain age my genius on the football pitch waned and my role models changed from Diego Maradona and John Barnes to campaigning lawyers who fought injustice such as Gandhi. What I admire most is their conviction and fearlessness. Growing up as an Asian in Britain made me conscious of discrimination, so I have always admired those who fought injustice. I admire my father for his selflessness in giving up college to support our family and working 12-14 hour shifts in a glass factory. Through perseverance he eventually opened his own business and my mother then picked up the reins.

BLD: What are you most passionate/happiest about?
SQ:  The birth of my son.

BLD: What are your dislikes?
SQ: Injustice and intolerance of others. The long wait for the Bangladeshi cricket team to realise its potential.
 
BLD: What was your worst moment as a lawyer?
SQ:   At Tower Hamlets Law Centre, I represented an employee in my first Employment Tribunal case. I had prepared meticulously. However, I did not allow for tube delays. I entered the hearing late and apologised. After a long silence, the tribunal Chairman admonished me for not explaining my delay. That completely threw me and I learnt to always allow extra travelling time.

BLD: Tell us about your professional high point(s).
SQ:  I was privileged to work on the Ladbroke Grove Train Inquiry where it became clear that 37 people had died needlessly and many more were seriously injured. The findings led to the Rail Safety Standards Board being established, improvements in rail safety and eventually Network Rail pleading guilty to charges under the Health and Safety at Work Act. In terms of my career, I started out as a volunteer at a CAB, after having had my training contract application rejected by a leading human rights firm. So it was a matter of great pride for me when I was made a partner and head of department at that same firm. Other highlights have included being listed as a leader in the field in Chambers UK for the last six years and making the Times Lawyer of the Week.

BLD: What was the most famous/interesting case(s) you have handled to date?
SQ:  At Bindmans we focus on cases that will change the law for the better. Most recently, I acted for the environmentalist Tim Nicholson in the Employment Appeal Tribunal, successfully arguing that his views about climate change and the environment are protected by the UK’s anti-discrimination legislation. We were pushing boundaries by arguing Tim’s views should have the same legal protection as religious beliefs. We had a fantastic team, including Dinah Rose QC, Ivan Hare and Tim Nicholson himself. We argued that Tim’s beliefs, although science-based, were philosophical because they involved a substantial aspect of human life and were underpinned by moral values. Mr Justice Burton agreed and people with such beliefs are now protected from discrimination. The judgment opens the door for protection of other beliefs.

BLD: Any professional regrets?
SQ: No – we all make mistakes. The important thing is to learn from them and move on.

BLD: If you could rule the world for a day what would you change/do?
SQ:  Ensure there is a long-lasting and binding agreement on climate change before it’s too late. I also think something needs to be done to change the huge disparity between the wealth of the West and the abject poverty of the developing world. Sadly, that’s not something to be fixed in a day.

BLD:  Tell us more about your family life?
SQ: Legal work often makes you feel like a mouse running on a wheel. So it’s nice to be able to get off that wheel and spend time with those that matter most.