British barrister Sultana Tafadar has been appointed Queen’s Counsel (QC), making her the first hijab-wearing criminal barrister in Britain to receive this mark of excellence. She received her Letters Patent at a ceremony at the Palace of Westminster on Monday morning, followed by a second ceremony with her peers at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Tafadar joins an elite group of lawyers to be appointed Queen’s Counsel. There are around 2,000 QCs in Britain – less than 2% of the entire legal profession. Speaking ahead of Monday’s ceremonies, Sultana Tafadar, an experienced human rights, international law and criminal justice barrister, said:“I am delighted to be one of two hijab-wearing barristers ever to have been appointed Queen’s Counsel, and the first at the Criminal Bar. I am also thrilled to be joining the ranks of trailblazing female QCs. Yet on such a day, when I am rising to the pinnacle of my profession in Britain, I note with great sadness that the same opportunities are currently denied to hijab-wearing women in other countries, such as France.
“Representation is important and the Bar can be a difficult terrain to navigate for those of us from non-traditional backgrounds, but it is changing. Sixteen years ago, when I first started at the Bar, it was a lonely place: there were few black and ethnic minority women, and no other hijab-wearing criminal barristers. We are breaking through these barriers, and I hope many other young women will now feel they can also reach the dizzying heights of the profession regardless of their race or religion.”
Ranked in the Legal 500, Tafadar is highly regarded for her work in human rights, counter terrorism and national security, and international law. Her cases straddle high profile criminal trials that have helped set important precedents. She also advises states and organisations on human rights and international law; and provides consultancy on equality, diversity, and inclusion to large multi-national corporations.
Tafadar is involved in the legal campaign to end the hijab ban in France. Later this year, she will be making important submissions to the United Nations on how the French government is in breach of international law in areas such as civil rights and sex discrimination, as well as violations of religious freedom, and the economic rights of women.
Born and raised in Luton to immigrant Bangladeshi parents, Tafadar grew up wanting to change the world for the better. Having excelled in professions such as medicine and teaching, her hijab-wearing relatives had already proven that being a visibly Muslim woman was no barrier to success. Inspired by the American Civil Rights Movement, Tafadar elected to study law, aware early in her career that advocacy and human rights go hand-in-hand: “Growing up in the 80s and '90s, I saw lots of injustice, and racism. I took inspiration from the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. I knew I wanted to be an activist lawyer.”
While her personal journey as an ethnic minority, hijab-wearing barrister has been challenging, Tafadar has never relented in her quest to progress professionally and to make a difference: “There have been times I have been mistaken for the defendant or the interpreter. I’ve faced a plethora of challenges owing to my gender, race and religion. It’s been tough, but I see my clients coming from diverse backgrounds who are also suffering similar discrimination.
"For me, the law is a tool to remedy these things and to achieve grand ideals like equality. It reminds me of why I joined this profession and why I need to succeed.”