SOLICITOR Razia Jogi is well-known in Bradford for her ground-breaking work helping victims of domestic violence. She co-authored a book on the topic of forced marriage in 2009 and was key in organising and presenting a national conference, raising awareness of the forced marriage legislation that had come into force in 2008.
By Anila Baig
Now she is sole director of the Bradford branch of leading law firm Switalskis and tells us how her fight for justice for some of the most powerless in society has changed during the pandemic.
BORN and raised in Blackburn and having spent her late teens and early twenties in Leicester, Razia describes herself as an ‘honorary Yorkshire woman.’
She arrived in the county in 1998 to train as a solicitor, returning to her home city Leicester post qualification. But she didn’t stay away long.
“I came back to Yorkshire to commence a six-month maternity cover post at the Wakefield branch of the Yorkshire law firm Switalskis. By January 2004, I was offered a fulltime post and persuaded to move to the Bradford branch.”
She has made a profound difference to the lives of vulnerable Asian women and children and has picked up numerous nominations and an award for her work with the most powerless in society.
Since March last year the majority of Switalskis’ 380 staff across 12 offices have been working from home.
“I am both pleased and proud to say that so many members of staff have reported that they have felt supported emotionally and practically during what continues to be a very trying time.”
Face to face interactions with clients, colleagues, other solicitors and judges are now a thing of the past as the legal profession adapted to a new way of working.
“We are now emailing, WhatApping, Zooming, Skyping and phoning for what seems like every working moment, it is very intense. Whilst at the start of the pandemic there was interruption to the family justice system, due to modern technology and hard work, the wheels of family justice have kept turning.
“The majority of my clients have WhatsApp and I insist on using the video calling facility when speaking to them so that they are reassured that I am still here to assist them in their case.”
Since Razia works with some of the most vulnerable members of society she says the lockdowns have exacerbated problems in society.
“There has been a sinister side effect to the lockdowns. As the pandemic continues and people are required to stay at home to protect themselves and their communities, the home is not always a safe place for victims of domestic abuse, which may include intimate partners and children.
“Child protection referrals surged after the initial lockdown; the most common factor for referrals was domestic abuse and neglect.
“Contact with professionals, such as doctors, health visitors and teachers, who are ideally placed to identify risk factors, have reduced massively due to lockdown restrictions. As a direct result, opportunities to spot warnings for potential abuse are missed.”
Razia has many years of experience working with women from overseas who are sometimes unable to speak English.
“Sometimes suddenly and unexpectedly they would confide in health professionals or teachers who then have contacted the Police and Social Services which in turn has provided a platform for an abuse victim to leave abusive environments. This can’t happen in the current situation.”
Razia remembers all the individual cases of the women she helps and recalled one woman who sought help from a shopkeeper.
“My client walked out of the house and to a shop where she asked for help. The shopkeeper called the police, which led to the first step of breaking what was a systematic family abuse system; she and her children were placed in refuge.
“My client had no confidence or life skills; she had to be taught how to count money, shop and how to get from A to B. She was petrified at the prospect of coming across her husband and members of his family, as she genuinely feared her children being snatched from her by them.
“This woman’s trauma was evident throughout initial stages of her case, she would physically shake when speaking of her experiences, she was physically sick during one of our meetings. This woman was terrified at the prospect of attending court in order to give evidence whilst facing her abusers and those who allowed that abuse to happen.
“But she found the strength to speak up and even the judge called her testimony ‘compelling and brave’.”
Now the former client speaks fluent English, supports her children in their education, drives and holds a full-time job.
“She says I have changed her life but I think it is she who changed my life and made me the lawyer I am today,” Razia said.
“One of the joys of working in Bradford city centre and helping vulnerable women from the community was that I would often come across former clients whom I represented years ago.
“I would be overwhelmed by their gratitude, enveloped in tight hugs and invitations to dinner, pre-Covid of course.
“I would be reintroduced to children who were toddlers when I represented their mothers but are now teenagers and I am referred to as ‘Razia Auntie’ out of respect. It is just the best payback for the sort of work that I do.”