Q&A with Cherie Booth QC

We speak to the human rights barrister, chancellor of the Asian University for Women and visiting professor in law at St Mary’s University, Twickenham

March 5, 2015

Source: Getty

We are seeing the world becoming a less tolerant and more dangerous place when all the advances in human knowledge should be making it a golden age of progress and harmony for everyone

Cherie Booth QC is a leading international human rights barrister and a founder of Matrix Chambers. She served as chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University from 1999 to 2006 and is presently chancellor of the Asian University for Women. In January she took up a visiting professorship in law at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Where and when were you born?
I was born in Bury on 23 September 1954, but moved to Liverpool at the age of six weeks.

How has this shaped you?
Well, my husband has always called me a bolshie Scouser, and of course I consider that a badge of honour!

What do you hope to achieve at St Mary’s?
I am delighted to have the opportunity to contribute to the exciting development plans for St Mary’s, and in particular to help shape the law and human rights curriculum.

With law graduates’ demand for training contracts outstripping the supply, are we training too many would-be lawyers?
The discipline of law is not just for lawyers, and a law degree is not just about getting into the legal profession. It provides an insight into the social, political and historical forces that have shaped our society, while building rigorous analytical skills that are invaluable in many careers in and outside the law.

You have often said that your Catholic faith is extremely important to you. Does it make a difference working at a Catholic institution?
As someone who was educated in Catholic schools, I know that the ethos of a Catholic institution informs every aspect of its work. The values of respect for the dignity of every person, combined with compassion for those who are vulnerable, shaped my choices as a human rights lawyer.

You are chancellor of the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh. Should there be more women-only institutions in the world – and in the UK?
I am not in favour of all-female universities in the UK, where girls and boys have equal educational opportunities, but I am convinced that the Asian University for Women model is an essential part of bringing higher education to girls in countries where they struggle to complete secondary school because of family pressures to marry and a view that girls should not be educated.

What do you think of the view among some politicians that the Human Rights Act should be scrapped?
I think it would be a backwards step for the UK, particularly in the year we are celebrating not only the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which confirms that the British have long understood the value of human rights, but also the 50th anniversary year of the death of Winston Churchill, who was one of the earliest and most vocal supporters of the European Convention on Human Rights.

As spouse of the prime minister, one is thrust into the public eye. How hard was it to live a ‘normal’ life with that level of attention?
It was extremely difficult, particularly for our children. So while it was a great privilege, it has been something of a relief for us to return to a more normal life.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Never look back!

What keeps you awake at night?
The idea that, in the 21st century, we are seeing the world becoming a less tolerant and more dangerous place when all the advances in human knowledge should be making it a golden age of progress and harmony for everyone.

You studied law at the London School of Economics. What was your most memorable moment at university?
I loved my time at university, particularly because of the excitement of the intellectual challenges. I can also still recall the luxury of being able to have a daily shower in hall, when back home in Liverpool we only had enough hot water for a bath once a week.

What kind of undergraduate were you?
I was a diligent student because I knew this was my one opportunity to improve my chances in life.

What’s your biggest regret?
I’ve been very fortunate in life, so I can honestly say – in the words of the song – je ne regrette rien!

john.elmes@tesglobal.com

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