Rhee Deok-joo, dressed in a barrister's rob and wig, poses in front of Lincoln's Inn after being appointed as a Queen's Counsel in a ceremony held at Westminster Hall in London, Monday. / Courtesy of Rhee Deok-joo
A Korean-born British lawyer has been appointed a Queen's Counsel (QC) for the first time in the country's history.
Rhee Deok-joo, a 43-year-old barrister in London, was one of 113 lawyers appointed as QC. The appointment ceremony was held at Westminster Hall, Monday.
The title of QC, also known as "silk," is bestowed upon the most capable lawyers with a proven mastery in law and ability to argue cases successfully in court in various Commonwealth jurisdictions.
Receiving the honor is regarded as a challenging competition for ethnic minorities. Only 10 to 15 percent of them on average survive the competitive year-long screening process.
"It is a very happy occasion and represents a form of recognition of many years of hard work. It is also an enormous privilege which I hope I will be able to use in the best way possible going forward," Rhee told The Korea Times.
Rhee, who practises from 39 Essex Chambers in London, was one of the outstanding candidates. She has been recognized as a leading practitioner in the fields of administrative, public, EU and human rights law, according to legal directories.
Born in Seoul, Rhee moved to the United Kingdom at the age of three with her family. She studied at Westminster School and Oxford University, where she stayed to teach EU Law following graduation.
"I was drawn to studying law because it embodies a tension between logic and human instinct," she said. "How to solve that tension is the essential challenge presented by law which I have always found, and still find, fascinating."
Encouraged by a professor at Oxford, she started pursuing a professional legal career as a barrister. It felt like a natural step given her interests, she said.
While practicing at the Bar, she served as a law clerk at the House of Lords, the U.K. Supreme Court and the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
She has also spent 15 years as a member of the Attorney General's Panel of Counsel, tasked with civil and EU cases representing the U.K. government.
Her excellence in court has been proven in multiple high-profile legal cases.
When she appeared as lead counsel for the government before the Supreme Court in a housing law case, she succeeded against seven other parties, all of whom were represented by QCs.
Being an expert in administrative and EU law, Rhee feels more responsibility in her role in the post-Brexit era.
"The political and legal developments taking place _ including in the United States and across Europe _ will mean that there will be significant changes in the legal landscape across many sectors of international law," she said. "I am looking forward to being able to contribute as best I can to the developments taking place across my fields of expertise."
Rhee is also determined to put a greater focus on international work for clients in South Korea and other Asian countries.
"Ultimately I would like to be able to work across my fields of practice in the UK, Europe and in Asia in a way which brings together my heritage and my experience," she said.
Q: When did you move to the UK? How was it like settling down in a new country?
A: I've lived in the UK since I was 3 years old. I remember trying to learn English (as Korean was my first language). I also remember then having to relearn Korean by going to Korean school on Saturdays. But beyond that I had a very typical and happy childhood in the UK.
Q: What was the motivation to be a barrister? And what made you interested in studying law?
A: I was drawn to studying law because it embodies a tension between logic, on the one hand, and human instinct, on the other. How to solve that tension is the essential challenge presented by law which I have always found, and still find, fascinating.
Becoming a barrister was not something I really planned on doing from a young age. However, after my studies it felt like a natural next step for me given my interests. My professor at Oxford also encouraged me to become a barrister. I was probably too young to think that it might be too difficult a career choice - which is a testament to the power of youth.
Q: Was there any difficulties in studying and working in legal field as a citizen of foreign origin? If so, can you share any particular episode or memory with us?
A: Of course there have been some difficulties as others must experience in all walks of life. Perhaps I will share some of these stories if I ever get to write a memoir!
Q: Could you tell us the most memorable legal case?
A: There have been many memorable cases I have been fortunate enough to be involved in. As a junior barrister, I appeared with Cherie Blair QC, for the Trade Union Congress when we successfully challenged the UK Government's failure properly to give effect to the EU's rules on parental leave. More recently, I appeared in the Grand Court of the Cayman Islands challenging the open release of genetically modified mosquitoes on environmental and human rights grounds. But perhaps the case which has been the most memorable for me is a housing law case where I appeared as lead counsel for the UK Government in the UK Supreme Court and succeeded against 7 other parties - all of whom were represented by Queen's Counsel.
Q: Could you fill in the details of the screening process to be a QC?
A: The process begins with a 70 page application form which was submitted in March 2016. Applicants are required to demonstrate excellence in the core skills (understanding and using the law, oral and written advocacy, working with others, and equality) - by reference to 12 'significant' cases undertaken in the 2 preceding years. We are also required to give the names of judges, clients and other barristers - who are then asked to provide references based on our performance in those cases. Based on this information, a proportion of applicants are invited to an interview - which takes place in the Autumn - at which interviewees are probed further about their experiences. Following this interview, applicants are notified of the outcome early the following year.
Q: How do you feel about the fields of your expertise ― administrative and public law, EU law and human rights law ― being deeply related to the current or upcoming political and legal developments caused by Brexit?
A: There are huge challenges presented by the current political and economic climate - principal among which is the need to devise a system that works and is seen to be working for all citizens - at both national and international levels. I firmly believe there are ways in which international legal frameworks and instruments, for example in the fields of trade and investment, can be better calibrated to take on board socio-economic considerations, which is an important step in preventing a retreat to the kind of nationalism that we are witnessing in many parts of the world.
Q: Being appointed to be a QC, what does it mean to you?
A: It is a very happy occasion and represents a form of recognition of many years of hard work. It is also an enormous privilege which I hope to be able to use in the best way possible going forwards.
Q: What is your life motto? What is your ultimate goal?
A: I don't think I have a motto as such. But I do believe in trying to do well as possible, and as authentically as possible, what one enjoys doing. Ultimately I would like to be able to work across my fields of practice in both the UK/Europe and in Asia - in a way which brings together my heritage and my experiences.
한인 변호사가 최초로 영국 법조계 최고 권위와 명예직인 퀸스 카운슬 (Queen's Counsel, 왕실 변호사)에 임명됐다.
영국 퀸스 카운슬 심사위원회는 한국계 이덕주 변호사(43)가 2017년 퀸스 카운슬 113명 중 한 명에 선발됐다고 밝혔다. 임명식은 13일 (현지시간) 웨스트민스터 홀에서 진행됐다.
퀸즈 카운슬은 영국 여왕의 호칭을 사용해 법조계에서 최고 권위와 명예를 공인하는 지위다. 퀸스 카운슬 임명과정은 독립기구인 심사위원회에서 고도의 객관성과 까다로운 요건을 갖춰 진행되는 것으로 알려져 있다. 1년에 걸친 심사 후 선발된 지원자들은, 법무부 장관의 추천을 거쳐 엘리자베스 여왕의 임명장을 수여받게 된다.
이번 선발로 이 씨는 영국내 퀸스 카운슬에 지명된 한인 최초 변호사로 기록됐다. 그녀는 "오랜 기간의 법조 경력이 인정을 받은 것 같아 기쁘다. 앞으로의 경력에 있어서도 굉장한 영예"라고 소감을 밝혔다.
퀸스 카운슬은 소수민족들에게는 여전히 뚫기 어려운 관문으로 알려져 있다. 매년 평균 10~15 퍼센트 정도의 만이 심사과정을 최종 통과한다.
이 씨는 행정법, 공법, 유럽연합법 및 인권법 분야의 전문가다. 서울에서 태어난 이 씨는 3살 때 가족을 따라 영국으로 건너가 웨스트민스터 스쿨, 옥스포드 대학교에서 수학했다. 법학, 프랑스법 학사, 민법 석사를 취득했고 졸업 후에는 모교에서 학생들에게 유럽법을 가르쳤다.
법조계에 입문해 영국 대법원, 유럽 형사법원에서 서기 업무를 맡았고, 법무부 장관 변호인단으로 15년 동안 일하면서 여러 주요 소송에서 영국정부를 변론하는 역할을 맡기도 했다.
이 씨는 "이번을 계기로 국제업무에 더욱 눈을 넓혀보고자 한다"며 "한국 및 기타 아시아 국가 의뢰인들과 일해볼 기회를 갖고 싶다"고 포부를 밝혔다.