The next event in our ongoing ‘Evening with…’ series on 16 July features Diana Wilson, a barrister, international rule of law expert and prosecutor who specialises in criminal law. She has defended and prosecuted criminal cases on organised crime, terrorism, migrant smuggling, high level corruption, war-time massacres and crimes of a sexual nature.
Diana served as an international prosecutor to EULEX Kosovo and the Specialist Prosecutor’s Office before returning to the Bar where she’s currently appointed to the Grade 4 CPS Advocate panel (General Crime, Counter Terrorism and Serious Crime Group), and the CPS RASSO Advocate panel. She is also a member of the Women in Criminal Law Committee and chairs their policy sub-committee.
I am a member of the Women in Criminal Law (WICL) Committee, and I am head of the policy team. WICL Policy are working on various issues that disproportionately impact women including, gender pay gap, under representation in the directories, the ’14 hours’ requirement* for solicitors, working with agencies to increase the proportion of women on their lists, the disproportionate impact of warned court lists and the impact of uptake of parental leave (we have just launched a survey on this).
We are lucky to receive support from so many wonderful people who share our goal of raising women up. We also have a WICL Policy blog where we discuss issues such as judicial bullying and the impact of the coronavirus on female practitioners. My role on the committee is to organise and help people liaise in order to progress and highlight our aims. Every six weeks or so I also attend and report back to the main committee meeting and drink the excellent wine Katy Thorne QC (the WICL Head and Founder) always provides. At these meetings WICL discusses the work of the Policy committee, and the work of the educational, mentoring, communications and events committees, as well as setting the forthcoming agenda. It is a sociable and fun committee to work on where I have come across many like-minded people and made really good friends.
My daily routine has changed somewhat during lockdown but normally I would get up around 7am and cook myself breakfast. I am an early bird so I like to take my time and enjoy this part of my day. I then leave for court and aim to get there for 9am. If I am lucky enough to be at one of my local courts this can take a mere 15 minutes. Arriving by 9am gives me time to settle and also time to catch up and chat at court. In this profession you often spend an intense few weeks with someone and then don’t see them for a year, so having time to catch a coffee before court, or to get lunch when you happen to run into each other, is always a small joy in the day.
If I am in trial, this would be an intense day at court with the court sitting from 10am to 1pm and from 2pm to 4.30pm but you have to prepare for court around these times. I love being in trial but it tends to leave me exhausted at the end of the day and I usually need half an hour to wind down. This is ideally done with a friend or colleague and some wine, or at least tea and cake. I would then often have something at 6pm, such as a Women in Criminal Law (WCIL) meeting, perhaps a human rights book club, or some kind of international piece of written work to attend to in the evening. I’d also have to prepare for the next day in court. That said, I recently spent a few days on a training course in Ghana with experts in a wide range of fields, so my days do vary greatly.
Each case I work on is unique and it is best to leave your preconceptions and prejudices at the door. People often come to these cases with very fixed ideas of what domestic violence looks like and how people should behave but each case is as unique as the circumstance and individuals involved and each needs a personalised and tailored approach. The cases often involve children and linked family proceedings so great care needs to be taken, especially if there is a familial bond as the parties are likely to continue to have a relationship after the event.
I started my career wanting to do courtroom advocacy. When I started, I hadn’t planned on joining the military or working in the EU or UN, it simply evolved as I followed my heart and interesting opportunities that arose. I find these cases interesting and varied. Putting together a crimes against humanity case involving a high level political figure who was not physically present when the crimes occurred is every bit as complex and challenging as a multi-million pound fraud, and in my view, more interesting.
There have been so many highs and lows during my career but one of the most memorable was when I was working as a special prosecutor in Kosovo and I went to speak to a village elder who had been present at a massacre where I suspected that rape had also been used as a weapon of war. I went to see him over 10 years after the event and, after some discussions, he slowly and clearly told me what had happened and wept as he did so It was the first time he had told anyone or spoken of what had happened that day. It was a privilege to know that I had gained his trust in that way and that he felt able to talk about such a traumatic and life changing event for the first time. He also gave me permission to speak to the rest of the village which was important in that context.
The most inspiring person I have met is a survivor of war time rape who, when I was discussing trial procedure with her, calmly said to me that she was not ashamed because she had done nothing wrong. She came from a culture where there was a great deal of shame associated with being a victim of war time rape and she had to be so brave to speak up at all. To hear her talk so clearly and compellingly about her experiences, without shame, gives me faith that one day society will be able to solely attribute the blame and guilt to the perpetrator, and that the international practice of shaming female victims of sexual violence will one day be stamped out.
The person who inspired my education and career most is probably my mum who is an Oxford pure maths fellow. Long before the need for social mobility was highlighted, she was fearlessly admitting and nurturing students from non-traditional backgrounds, simply because she wanted to ensure that genuine raw talent progressed, rather than selecting the students who had been coached into being good at exams and interviews.
When I was a pupil barrister, I had the pleasure of watching Sally O’Neil QC defending in a case my pupil master was prosecuting. Her grace and poise was probably the defining memory of my first six pupillage. I was also lucky enough to be Zoe Johnson’s (now QC) pupil; her fortitude, brilliance and kindness are still standards to which I aspire.
My approach to work/life balance has been feast or famine. I tend to work intensely for a period of time and then take a few weeks, or, on occasion, a few months off. I love to travel, I love to explore, indeed this is why I got into international work. I think work/life balance is very important but it looks different to different people. You can’t get to the end of your life and wonder where it went but if you love your work it can sustain you for a while and many of our best opportunities and most interesting experiences can come from work.
For some people a work/life balance involves having that balance in every day, for others it is balanced in the week. I prefer to be really focus on one thing and obtain my balance over a year or couple of years. However, it is important to have a life outside of work and to take a break from work, if only to keep fresh. I have seen so many people burn out and lose their spark and if you never take a break it might well happen to you and you won’t even notice.
I would advise anyone studying law to try things out. Don’t be so fixed on one thing that opportunities pass you by. Don’t be afraid, it’s a marathon not a sprint. At the end, you will be sad for the things you didn’t try, not the mistakes you made.
If you're a ULaw alumni who would like to book a place at An Evening with Diana Wilson on Thursday 16 July 2020 at 6pm please email [email protected].
* The requirement for duty solicitors to undertake a minimum of 14 hours contract work per week