Tunji Sowande has many firsts to his name as a black legal professional in England and Wales. He was the first black person to gain tenancy, first black head of chambers, and first black Deputy Circuit Judge.
There is little information about him readily available but we do know that he was born in 1912 Lagos, Nigeria to an affluent family and that his first career was as a pharmacist in Lagos. It was his love for music that brought him to London in the 1940s and ironically he enrolled at King’s College to study Law only as an afterthought.
He was called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn and became the first black barrister to practice in England when he was offered a tenancy at 3 Kings Bench Walk. There had been other barristers before him such as the Sierra Leonean lawyer Christian Frederick Cole. The first black student to attend Oxford University, he was called to the Bar in the 1880s however he was not able to secure tenancy.
Tunji Sowande developed a distinguished practice at the Criminal Bar, progressing rapidly and in 1968 he became the first black head of chambers and the first black Deputy Circuit Judge in 1978. He was appointed a Recorder of the Crown Court from where he retired in or around 1989.
According to the Bar Standards Board, Diversity at the Bar 2019 report, only 3.2% of the Bar are from Black/Black British backgrounds and only 1.1% are QCs.
We celebrate Tunji Sowande for his remarkable achievements and for his efforts in opening up doors for black barristers in England.