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Indian-born lawyer claims Rs 250 crore for racial discrimination

Last updated on: October 16, 2009 17:57 IST

An Indian-born barrister in the UK is claiming 33 million pounds (nearly Rs 250 crore) damages for racial discrimination, accusing her head of chambers and his "overtly racist" legal clerks of conspiring to stop her receiving a string of high profile and lucrative assignments.

Aisha Bijlani described to an employment tribunal a "racist" culture which operated behind the respectable fa├žade of the award-winning Four New Square Chambers, where she had worked for 16 years.

"I was actively disliked by the clerks on the grounds of my race and origins. The senior clerk, Lizzie Wiseman, who was responsible for the allocation of work, was aware of the racist behaviour and general aggressive and abusive behaviour of the clerks towards members of chambers, but defended them and praised them so that they kept their jobs," Bijlani told the hearing at the Central London Employment Tribunal.

She claimed that the senior barristers also shared negative opinions of her based on her race.

She said, "The senior clerk's extra-marital affairs with two consecutive heads of chambers, in conflict with each of their positions, speaks for itself," the Daily Telegraph reported.

Bijlani alleged that she earned at least 7 million pounds less than her high-flying colleagues during her time at the firm, blamed the clerks responsible for placing the work, who referred to black staff as "educated wogs".

She claimed three "overtly racist" clerks were assigned to her between 1994 to 2009 during her time at Four New Square.

The names of the clerk were Dennis Peck, Dominic Sabini and Steve Purse.

Bijlani, who qualified as a medical doctor at Guy's Hospital before changing careers, is also making a claim under the Public Interest disclosure Act, designed to protect whistle-blowers from victimisation and dismissal, and for discrimination on the grounds of disability.

The respondents are two deputy high court judges, Fenwick and John Powell, QC -- both former head of chambers at Four New Square -- as well as Roger Steward, QC, a part-time judge and until recently the head of chambers and Lizzie Wiseman, senior clerk.

In a twist to the proceedings, it has emerged that Wiseman, a mother of four, has now left her husband for Steward, who is already married.

The tribunal panel was played a tape on which Peck was heard mimicking a West Indian accent then saying that a receptionist of Afro-Caribbean descent sounded like she spoke "gibberish".
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