LONDON: A newly appointed British hijab-wearing judge has spoken of how she was recently mistaken for an interpreter by a court usher.
Raffia Arshad, 40, who was appointed deputy district judge on the Midlands circuit last week, said the incident, which took place before she became a judge, shows the level of discrimination that exists in the legal profession.
Arshad, who was appearing in court as a barrister, told Metro newspaper that an usher asked her whether she was an interpreter, and that when she said no, he asked whether she was “here on work experience,” to which she replied: “No, I’m actually the barrister.”
She told Metro: “I have nothing against the usher who said that, but it reflects that as a society, even for somebody who works in the courts, there is still this prejudicial view that professionals at the top end don’t look like me.”
Arshad, who is one of the first hijab-wearing judges in the UK, said she did not take the advice of a relative who told her not to wear her hijab at an interview for a scholarship at the Inns of Court School of Law in 2001.
The family law barrister succeeded at the interview and was given “a considerable scholarship.”
She told Metro: “I decided that I was going to wear my headscarf because for me it’s so important to accept the person for who they are, and if I had to become a different person to pursue my profession, it’s not something I wanted.”
As of April 1, 2019, only 7 percent of court judges in England and Wales were from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (out of those whose ethnicity was known). Around 30 percent of court judges were women.
Arshad will begin sitting part-time on the Midland circuit later this year, and will continue to practice from St. Mary’s Family Law Chambers, where she has worked as a barrister for the last 15 years.