Garden Court Chambers celebrates 50th Anniversary

Friday 31 May 2024

This year marks 50 years of Garden Court Chambers fighting injustice and advancing equality.

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Foreword by Joint Heads of Garden Court Chambers, Rajiv Menon KC, Stephen Simblet KC & Grace Brown

This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the founding of Garden Court Chambers. Other institutions might refer to this as a Golden Jubilee.  For us, though, that term is inapt: whilst our 50 years should be celebrated and acknowledged, the motivations which, in 1974, led six young barristers to start this Chambers remain.

Those six needed a new approach to legal practice, focusing on challenging inequality and discrimination, arguing for racial and social justice, women's rights and the provision of high-quality publicly funded legal services, to those unable to otherwise access their rights. Those motivations continue to this day, and remain as important as ever. Indeed, two of the founder members of Chambers, Marguerite Russell and Michael House, remain in practice in the criminal defence team, and David Watkinson is a practising mediator. Marguerite and the Bradford 12 trial, a case in which she and other Garden Court barristers were involved, feature in the recent Channel 4 series “Defiance”. 

While there are new challenges, Garden Court lawyers have recently succeeded before the European Court of Human Rights in a case involving a climate emergency unforeseen in 1974. However, the core legal problems of inequality,  prejudice and state oppression remain. We continue to see our role as using the law to promote fundamental rights, with our clients at the heart of every case.

So while across those 50 years, Garden Court barristers have been involved in many landmark cases and significant legal victories in the highest domestic and international Courts, we remain committed to securing access to justice across the legal system, including Magistrates’ Courts, County Courts, Coroners’ Inquests and Specialist Tribunals. We are proud of our legal work at the sharp end, where legal representation can deliver lifechanging results for our clients.

Garden Court is also proud that our founding principle, a democratic and diverse Chambers committed to ensuring its members and staff are drawn from all sections of society, representative across gender, race, social class, and sexual orientation, continues. In 1974, this included providing in-depth legal training and remuneration to pupils, ideas seen as outlandish at the time, but which now, not only have become mainstream, but are compulsory.  Our initiative to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds to access legal education through our 'Access to the Bar for all' scheme extends that commitment, as does our Special Fund, which has provided nearly £3 million, over the years, in financial support for community organisations and grassroots legal work.

So, as we face the challenges of the next half century, with fundamental rights, civil liberties and access to justice under attack, both at home and throughout the world, we will be highlighting some of the important cases that we have been involved in over the last half century. We hope that by doing so, we inspire those who carry on this work, and that it continues in a tradition where human rights are valued, and where the objective is to secure justice for those who need it most.

Humble Beginnings

Garden Court Chambers was founded on 6 May 1974, when six barristers, just out of pupillage, set up, with the help of a loan, in three rooms in Lincoln’s Inn. Garden Court Chambers was first located in Farrar’s Building in the Inner Temple, then to Garden Court with annexes at Devereux Court. In 2005, we relocated to Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

At the time, our founders' aspirations were regarded as revolutionary, if not subversive. 

They had clear goals in mind:

  • to provide socially useful legal services, supporting and complementing law centres
  • to work in an environment that was democratic with a balance of sexes and races
  • to train pupils and pay them
  • to argue cases that made a difference; in particular, to engage in the struggle for human rights, at a time when the term was regarded with nothing less than ridicule, and for sexual and racial justice. If necessary, working for no reward.

Equality and Diversity
Garden Court Chambers has always prided itself on a commitment to diversity. The outcome is that we are one of the most diverse organisations and workplaces in the country.

In 2024, our pioneering mentoring scheme ‘Access to the Bar for All’ was awarded Outstanding in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and the Social Mobility Award at the Women, Influence & Power in Law UK Awards. In 2019 and 2020, the scheme was awarded Outstanding Contribution to Diversity & Inclusion at the Chambers Bar Awards. In 2017, the scheme was awarded Diversity Initiative of the Year at the UK Diversity Legal Awards. The scheme was also shortlisted for Diversity Project of the Year at the Women in Law Awards 2020.

'Do Right, Fear No One'

Our motto, Recte faciendo neminem timens, or, ‘Do right, fear no one’, embodies our longstanding ethos: we are dedicated to fighting your corner, no matter how formidable the opponent might seem. Garden Court has a proud history of winning ground-breaking cases of constitutional importance.

Our legal challenges have overturned great injustices in many landmark decisions.

Equally, our barristers fight hard for clients in countless cases that don’t hit the headlines, but are nonetheless vital for defending the rights of those we represent.

Our Expansion

We've grown from our small set of six founding barristers in three rooms in Lincoln’s Inn in 1974, to become the largest barristers’ chambers in London with over 200 leading barristers, including 30 KCs. We offer clients an unrivalled breadth and depth of inter-disciplinary expertise. 

We are top ranked by independent legal directories and consistently win awards.

The Fight Continues

The aspirations of our founders still remain integral to Chambers. We are proud of our commitment to expanding equality of opportunity in the legal profession, but there is still a long way to go. 

Our barristers continue to embark on legal challenges which aim to overturn great injustices of our time, alongside NGOs, charities, and campaign groups. These include environmental law & climate justice work holding governments and corporations to account, defending the right of activists to protest amid the use of anti-protest injunctions in the UK, major public inquiries such as The UK Covid-19 Inquiry
and tenants' rights during the housing crisis.

Our three Joint Heads of Chambers, Rajiv Menon KC, Stephen Simblet KC, and Grace Brown, reflect our multidisciplinary commitment to diversity, human rights, access to justice and the highest standards of advocacy. 

As Grace Brown stated: "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much"

We are top ranked by independent legal directories and consistently win awards.

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