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Celebrating International Women’s Month: My role as a woman in African legal practice – September 2014

Celebrating International Women’s Month: My role as a woman in African legal practice – September 2014

“I am currently a pupil barrister undertaking my pupillage in Maurice and have recently joined Chambres Erriah for the rest of my pupillage.

To this end, my role as a woman in the African legal practice would mostly be about my experience as a pupil barrister in Mauritius this past year.  I am expected to be called to the Mauritian Bar in September 2014.

My long term aim as a soon‑to‑be called barrister in Mauritius is to specialise in the corporate side of the law, in view of the financial and legal background that I have, and my keen interest in tax.  The last three months of my pupillage have thereby been at leading corporate chambers in Mauritius namely, Clarel Benoit Chambers and Erriah Chambers (where I am at presently).  It has been a great learning experience so far, allowing me the opportunity to acquaint myself with several areas of company law and tax law.  I view my corporate experience in those firms as a stepping stone for my career later on, and am therefore trying to learn and gain as much knowledge as I can on such matters.

Furthermore, I have during the course of my pupillage (7 months) worked with several other barristers in other areas of the law.  Part of my pupillage was undertaken at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) for 6 months, where I was put under the supervision of Mrs Johan Moutou Leckning.  Mrs Leckning is the Acting Senior Assistant DPP.  She is one of the very few senior and leading female lawyers at the ODPP and I was fortunate to be the only pupil assigned to her.

My role as a pupil barrister there was very versatile, and for the purpose of this article, I will share this part of my experience as an aspiring female lawyer.  I have at the ODPP, had the chance to have a senior female mentor who has greatly contributed to my learning experience both as a woman role model and also as a female lawyer in the legal professional.

As part of my task, I have undertaken and prepared several cases involving rape (including a major gang rape case, the second one so far in Mauritius), child abuse and involuntary homicide amongst others.  I have also assisted Mrs Leckning, in contributing to written advice on the Juvenile Children’s bill for the ODPP.  Mrs Leckning was also in charge of a Domestic Violence and Child Victims and Witness Unit at the ODPP, of which I was also part of.  In this respect I have worked on, researched and contributed to the writing of several papers on domestic violence in respect of the implementation of the Children’s Bill, amongst others.  I have also attended meetings and participated in a case advising and defending the National Women Council with Mrs Leckning.

As a young woman in the profession, I notice that working on cases such as rape, domestic violence and child‑related cases have had an impact on the way I view the legal profession as a whole.  Previously, like many, my perception of the legal profession was that its raison-d’être was first, to provide justice and condemn criminals/offenders, and secondly, that it was hierarchically male dominated.  However my experience at the ODPP taught me that we, women lawyers, in particular, have a much significant role and contribution to offer.  Whilst being at the ODPP, I developed a close affiliation to aspects of the law which deal with children victims, abuse, domestic violence and aid to women and will, in the near future, like to offer my contribution to those areas of law, alongside any other corporate legal work.

Counteracting my second perception, I was also surprised to see the high number of women magistrates in court.  It gave me a feeling of empowerment, a feeling where there is no room for self‑doubt and that the times have changed and that I belong in the right place.  Indeed, this largely increased my confidence as a woman in the profession.

Runoushka Daliah, pupil barrister at Mauritian Lex African member, Erriah Chambers.

As a pupil barrister, I also noticed that we now have as many female pupils as male ones.  We will all soon be lawyers, and seniors one day, and this goes to say that we women should not fear or apprehend or underestimate our capability to strive towards our goals in the legal profession.  There are still areas which remain male dominated, for instance, the criminal field in particular where people still tend to “trust” a male lawyer over a female one.

I have nonetheless noticed a slow but progressive and positive change with regard to Mauritian women in the legal profession. Access to justice for women is hence, also now far more possible and achievable than it used to be.”

Runoushka Daliah, a pupil barrister at Mauritian Lex African member, Erriah Chambers.  

Published 2 September 2014

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