Gurdeep Garcha QC – Citadel Chambers, Birmingham
Gurdeep Garcha QC, who is believed to be the first BAME QC to be appointed at the Birmingham Criminal Bar, was sworn in as a new silk in March 2020. He is a criminal defence specialist, now concentrating on the most serious cases, essentially leading on murder/manslaughter, terrorism and very serious drugs and sex offences.
Gurdeep was raised in Birmingham by working class parents who had arrived in England in 1965 from the Punjab. He considered that his career choice was strongly informed by his heritage as “Punjabis love to debate and argue!” Gurdeep attended an inner-city comprehensive school where as “a bright kid” he stood out. He began to think seriously about a career in the legal profession during the sixth form. Gurdeep chose Warwick University to do his law degree because he felt this would be “a better fit” for him than Oxbridge.
Newly married at the time, Gurdeep joined 6 King’s Walk Chambers in London. He had at first felt something of an outsider in the profession. As a Sikh, Gurdeep has never worn a wig in court (“I did not need a wig to be a very good barrister”) and, in any case, “looking different could also be an advantage, particularly in court”. Gurdeep returned to Birmingham in 1999, to Citadel Chambers, where he has remained. He found himself increasingly up against silks in big cases, and he mapped out a three-year plan for an application for silk. He kept a full record of every significant case and every important piece of advocacy, and eventually chose 12 cases from a longer list. Meanwhile, Gurdeep kept a line of communication open with prospective assessors. He did not seek assistance in completing his form as he considered this should be entirely his own work and reveal his “true voice”. On submitting his application form, Gurdeep put it to one side.
Gurdeep found the interview enjoyable. He had the confidence from re-reading his application form shortly beforehand. Gurdeep had seen a coach three days before his QC interview and found this helpful in terms of bolstering his confidence. He was soon able to relax in the interview as the Panel interviewers put him at his ease. There were tough questions but the biggest challenge came from being a solely defence specialist, with his most recent case as prosecutor some ten years earlier.
Returning to schools like the one Gurdeep himself attended, to do outreach work, was a useful reminder of how far he had come. He always told bright young people that they should not allow concerns about such phenomena as a closed shop and glass ceilings to become “lazy excuses” not to pursue their ambitions. He told them that it was not enough to be intellectually bright; self-belief and sustained hard work would also be essential.
Gurdeep was delighted at being appointed Queen’s Counsel – which he described as the pinnacle of the profession. As the weeks passed following the interview, Gurdeep had managed to convince himself that he had been unsuccessful and admitted to “having a few tears” in the robing room when the e-mail arrived informing him he had been successful. To celebrate his success and thank his wife for her “amazing support over the years”, on Christmas night Gurdeep flew off with her to Dubai for a short break.
Being the first BAME QC at the Midlands Criminal Bar was a significant achievement, and Gurdeep hoped that his elevation would provide as an inspiration to others from minority heritage and working class backgrounds. Being made a silk was “in equal parts a challenge and a thrill”. Gurdeep had been concerned that his practice might ‘fall off a cliff’ as he lost senior-junior briefs and sought replacement QC level cases. But that had not happened and, by August 2020 Gurdeep had picked up six murder cases.
As a practitioner, Gurdeep has always kept in mind “the human being and their social, economic and cultural status – avoiding, where possible, getting bogged down in the legal niceties of the offence with which the client has been charged”. That will not change.
- Date: February 26, 2021