Hijab-wearing criminal lawyer calls QC appointment ‘surreal’
A hijab-wearing criminal lawyer who would be the first to be appointed as a Queen’s Counsel (QC) called the honor “surreal” in light of the “layers” of challenges she has faced during her career.
Sultana Tafadar received her letters patent – the document denoting the award for excellence in advocacy – at the Palace of Westminster on Monday.
This was followed by a second ceremony, with his peers, at the Royal Courts of Justice.
Ms Tafadar, who was born and raised in Luton and has Bangladeshi roots, was called to the bar in 2005 and said she later became the first female criminal lawyer to wear the hijab.
She said she was the second hijab-wearing lawyer to become a QC after Shaheed Fatima – but the first female criminal lawyer to wear the religious habit to receive the nomination.
Speaking to the PA news agency on Monday afternoon, she said: ‘It’s a surreal experience.
“I am absolutely thrilled, especially as the first hijab-wearing lawyer to be admitted to the criminal bar.”
Ms Tafadar said becoming a QC is of particular importance as she didn’t see anyone like her when she started in the profession.
“Representation is really important,” she said, adding that she can help more hijab-wearing women achieve their dreams of reaching the heights of the profession.
“When I came into the profession, I was like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t see anyone like me in the upper layers of the profession.’
“Usually at the bar, there aren’t many women wearing hijab, and you’re like, ‘Can you really do it?’
“So hopefully the fact that I’ve shown it’s possible, and hopefully that opens the floodgates for others to come forward.”
Ms Tafadar referred to statistics showing that a tiny percentage of the roughly 2,000 QCs are women of black, Asian or mixed ethnicity.
A report by the General Bar Council on Race found that, by Monday, only 31 women from such backgrounds had been admitted to the Bar.
“When you scale back down again, in terms of the hijab-wearing lawyers who are the Queen’s lawyers, there’s only ever been two and I’m the first in the criminal bar,” she said.
Asked about the challenges she faced, she said: “We could be here all day.
“Unfortunately there are layers and layers of challenges that I face, as a woman, as someone from an ethnic minority and as someone who visibly wears the hijab.
“There have been challenges in the courts, there have been challenges in the workplace in my previous chambers, but I am happy to say that it is possible to overcome these challenges and it is possible – in having the opportunities – to shine.”
Ms Tafadar is involved in a legal bid to end France’s hijab ban and will argue at the United Nations this year that the government is breaking international law.
She said as she celebrated the “silk grab” – a term for being named QC – the struggle other hijab-wearing women are facing across Europe at the same time is “sad”.
She said: “There are women across Europe and particularly in France who are discriminated against for wearing the hijab.
“France wants to impose various forms of banning the hijab and this amounts to sexual, racial and religious discrimination.
“It’s sad on a day like this and I celebrate wearing silk by wearing the hijab that others across Europe are denied the opportunities I’ve had.”
In May 2020, Raffia Arshad became the first hijab-wearing woman to be appointed as a judge.
Jo Sidhu QC, President of the Criminal Bar Association, said: “Diversity which encompasses lawyers from different racial, ethnic and gender backgrounds must be welcomed and championed if the criminal bar is to continue to better reflect the public we serve in as prosecutors and defenders”.