Champion of social justice Cordella Bart-Stewart started her career in law when black solicitors were almost unheard of in the UK.
Having qualified as a solicitor, she later launched her own practice, founded the Black Solicitors Network (BSN) and now sits as a part time judge in the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in Central London.
Jamaican-born Cordella came to the UK when she was four years old. She was raised in Birmingham and later attended North Staffordshire Polytechnic, now Staffordshire University, where she studied law and graduated in 1980.
“I had an interest in law at school,” she recalled, “and when I was there, in the 60s, it was a time when there were not any black solicitors so I wasn’t encouraged to become a solicitor, it was just something I wanted to do.”
After fully qualifying in 1987 and setting up her own London practice a few years later, Cordella and three other solicitors founded the BSN, in 1995, to “create a level playing field for aspiring black solicitors”, she said. The Network, which Cordella chairs, now has around 6,000 members of different ethnic backgrounds.
“Things are completely different now, to when we started the Network nearly 15 years ago. Things have improved but it is still very difficult for black people to get into the judiciary, and we are now looking to change that.”
Cordella has also worked with a number of community groups as a voluntary legal advisor or committee member. She is Warden of her local parish church, St Andrews, in Southgate, North London “to help the new communities to feel more included”, and is a Director and Trustee of the Solicitors Benevolent Association, a charity that helps solicitors and their dependants in need.
Her extensive management and leadership experience was recognised by the Chartered Management Institute who appointed her a Companion of the Institute. She was shortlisted as the Law Society Gazette Legal Personality of the Year in the Law Society Excellence Awards 2014.
She is a serving Director and founding member of BSN.
The award of Honorary Doctor of Staffordshire University is bestowed upon Cordella for her contribution to the legal profession, her voluntary work and her passion for social justice, equality and fairness.