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Notts Rebels: Usha Sood

8 July 20

In celebration of the Nottingham Castle Trust’s #VoicesofToday campaign, our Notts Rebels series continues with a look at the life and career of Usha Sood, one of Europe's trailblazing Human Rights lawyers…

Born in 1952, Usha Sood’s upbringing in Malaysia heavily focussed on religion – taught hinduism at home, Usha attended a convent during her school years, and was influenced by the Islamic and Chinese beliefs which also surrounded her. It is this experience, and the influence of her religious parents that taught a young Usha that despite their differences, the basis of any religion are the ideal of doing good and being kind – attributes which have no doubt contributed to her groundbreaking career. 

In the late-sixties, when she was just eighteen, her family – consisting of her parents and four siblings – relocated to the UK so Usha could attend university. She had been granted an unconditional offer to study English at Cambridge University, but her father had other ideas in mind; convinced it would provide her more opportunities for her future, he persuaded Usha to study Law instead, and ultimately changed the course of their life. And so, the family moved to Bramcote and Usha began her studies at the University of Nottingham. 

Moving to what was a predominantly white area was a conscious choice – her father believed it was important to integrate, so they could share their values and beliefs with the whole community and learn from their neighbours too. The close relationships they formed with their neighbours became a great help to Usha when just two years after moving, she lost both her parents to illness and became the solo bread-winner for her siblings. The community rallied around her, and showed her how to manage alone, and enforced that message of kindness which had underpinned her childhood.

After 22 years, Usha succeeded in bringing the children’s parents back to the UK, and finally ended the longest case her career has seen

After completing her degree, Usha was quickly snapped up by Trent Polytechnic as a lecturer of Law, and her career became solely academic for the next two decades, pushing the boundaries on teaching techniques; never satisfied with a simple worksheet, she sought to give her students real-world examples of the topics they were learning, and encouraging them to use their voices for good. Usha was called to the bar in 1974, and continued to teach for 37 years. After completing her pupilage, Usha began to practice law in 1990, and two years later took on the most defining case of her career, and in turn, produced a defining moment in British law. 

While she was still a senior lecturer at Nottingham Trent, a local councillor knocked on her door with a small child she had found sheltering in a house with his mother and six siblings. The family were young Sikhs, threatened with deportation back to India where the entire family was in danger due to the attacks following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s murder. Their attempts to gain asylum in Britain had failed, and the father was being deported in just a few days time. The councillor didn’t know what could be done to save the children, most of whom had been born and raised in Britain. Despite much doubt and resistance  from others working on the case, Usha insisted on using principle of wardship (proceedings to make the Court a legal guardian of the children) to ensure the children could stay in the country. This was the first and only time wardship has successfully been used in an immigration case in the UK. 

The children were protected against deportation until they became adults, but a year after the victory, the Home Office deported their mother, leaving them effectively orphaned.  After 22 years, Usha succeeded in bringing the children’s parents back to the UK, and finally ended the longest case her career has seen. Such a triumph, this victory became one of the underlying cases that in 2009 lead the UK government passing legislation making children’s welfare an important factor in future immigration proceedings. 

Usha is known for extending her hand to help as many people as she possibly can in the courtroom

At the age of 68, Usha is still practising law at Trent Chambers, based on Regent Street, Nottingham – and has established the Chambers as one of the leading Human Rights Chambers internationally. Their slogan, “integrity, strength, passion” are all ideals which Usha presents when representing her clients, and her commitment to helping those who cannot help themselves has seen her provide monumental change in UK law. Her long list of accolades also include winning the first ever dowry case in the country, advising the Home Office on making forced marriage illegal and becoming part of the Lawrence Steering Group, which oversaw the government’s implementation of plans in response to the inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Usha is known for extending her hand to help as many people as she possibly can in the courtroom, but still routinely shows gratitude to those who supported her as a young, orphaned woman forced to provide for her family. For the last four decades, she has led the celebration of Diwali in her local area, welcoming neighbours to an all-day open house with lavish window displays, and showed her solidarity to her community a few years back by taking on Nottingham’s Cineworld, heading a campaign to bring back their screenings of Bollywood films. It is her selflessness, confidence and desire to continue pushing through barriers which makes Usha Sood a true Notts rebel. 

‘Voices of Today’ is aimed at inspiring Nottingham residents to get creative and represent their experiences or perspectives on activism, protest and rebellion in a number of ways, including poetry, drawing, singing, acting, dance, creating a protest banner or something different altogether.

You can submit your artistic take on Nottingham's history of activism, protest and rebellion at @nottmcastle using the hashtag #VoicesofToday  

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