Florida teen makes history as youngest person ever to pass UK bar exam
A gifted Florida teenager has made history across the pond.
Gabrielle Turnquest, from Windermere, has demonstrated superior academic prowess to become the youngest person to qualify as a barrister in the U.K.
She was called to the Bar of England and Wales after passing her exams with flying colors at just 18.
What makes this achievement even more extraordinary is that the average lawyer undertakes the notoriously rigorous Bar Professional Training Course when they are 27, according to The University of Law records.
“I am honored to be the youngest person to pass the Bar exams but, really, I was not aware at the time what the average age was,” the 18-year-old said in an interview with The Telegraph. “I didn’t fully realize the impact of it.”
The high-flying teen, who aspires to be a fashion law specialist, took the course at the University of Law, along with her older sister Kandi, who also passed the exams at the age of 22.
“It’s a phenomenal success for someone as young as her to be called to the Bar,” said Dr. Peter Herbert O.B.E, chair of Society of Black Lawyers, the oldest organization of minority lawyers in the U.K. “It’s even more significant that she’s a person of color.”
“While we have about 14 percent of African-Caribbeans and Asians qualifying as barristers, it has traditionally been one of the most segregated professions in the country.” said Herbert, a leading human rights barrister and judge pro tem.
Turnquest was able to take the British exam because her parents hail from the Bahamas, where she hopes to eventually work. She is also planning to qualify as a lawyer here in the U.S.
The youngster has already made history at her previous college, Liberty University in Virginia, where she was the youngest person there to finish an undergraduate degree, in psychology, at the tender age of 16.
In the past, a trainee lawyer had to be at least 21 to be eligible for the call to The Bar. This was scrapped in 2009 with the introduction of the Bar Training Regulations.
In the United Kingdom there are two types of lawyers: barristers who stand before a judge and represent clients in court, and solicitors who put cases together working out of a law firm.
“When I was first called to the Bar 30 years ago, to see a black barrister wearing a white wig in court would have stopped traffic,” said Courtenay Griffiths QC, a prominent, Jamaican-born, London-based British barrister, who was called to the Bar in 1980.
Herbert said the Society of Black Lawyers was set up some 40 years ago because of “de facto apartheid in the legal system” where the majority of minorities couldn’t get a pupillage, the final stage of training to be a practicing barrister.
If Turnquest wants to pursue a career as barrister in the U.K., she would still have to carry out a pupillage at chambers for at least a year and then be granted a tenancy.
“She’s done extremely well to qualify at such a young age,” in the 600-year history of the profession, said Griffiths QC.
Though, he said despite increases in women and minorities being called to the Bar, they tend to be concentrated in publicly funded work. Privately funded portfolios tend to be skewed toward “public school educated or Oxbridge graduates” and “black faces there are still very much scarce.”
“The nearer you get to the power and money the fewer of us [minorities] you’ll see. So commercial law, for instance, is particularly restricted,” said Herbert.
Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti