Sarah Reid KC – Kings Chambers, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham

Sarah Reid KC was one of 101 advocates, including 45 women, appointed to silk following the 2021 KC Competition. This was the first year that the proportion of women amongst those appointed – 45% – exceeded the proportion of women in the relevant cohort of the profession.

Sarah specialises almost exclusively in town and country planning. She frequently appears in planning inquiries and hearings, local plan examinations and statutory review and judicial review proceedings. She has a particular specialism relating to large scale housing schemes, but has a depth and breadth of experience across the full range of planning matters (including retail, logistics, highways, renewable energy, waste, enforcement and compulsory purchase, for example). Prior to taking silk, Sarah was appointed as “A Panel” Junior Counsel to the Crown, advising and appearing on behalf of the Secretary of State in the most complex planning matters.

Sarah grew up in Sheffield where she attended a state primary school and a non-selective comprehensive school.  Her parents were the first in their families to go to university, having grown up in mining villages, and Sarah describes how her mother inspired and encouraged her to believe that she could achieve anything that she wanted to if she worked hard enough.  Sarah attended University College London, where she read Law and Spanish Law. She chose to combine law with Spanish so that she had the opportunity to spend a year in Madrid, which she thoroughly enjoyed. On graduating, Sarah remained in London to attend Bar School, following which she was delighted to be offered a specialist planning pupillage at Kings Chambers (Manchester). As well as being a brilliant professional opportunity, this allowed her to relocate closer to her family in circumstances where there are so few other Chambers outside London that specialise in planning law.

Sarah has remained at Kings Chambers since commencing her pupillage there in 2004. When she joined Kings, the late Frances Patterson KC was head of Chambers. It remains the case that there are very few female KCs that specialise in planning, but this was particularly unusual in 2004, and Frances was an inspiration to Sarah. She was also very supportive of her, leading Sarah in some of her first cases. Sarah is also extremely grateful to her two “brilliant” pupil supervisors – Ian Ponter and Ruth Stockley. They are both very different advocates, but together taught Sarah everything that she needed to know and gave her the confidence to succeed from the beginning of her career.

Sarah completed a specialist planning pupillage at Kings Chambers and has practised in planning ever since. The field appealed to her because it is a legally and technically challenging area that is also relevant to everyday life, in that almost every case has tangible consequences and impacts on the natural and built environment.  Sarah said she never felt the need to “dabble’ in other areas of law as planning was itself a very diverse area.

The ‘bread and butter’ of Sarah’s practice area is advising on planning appeals and appearing in planning inquiries. These involve a great deal of advocacy, including the cross-examination of experts from various professional disciplines (for example, planning, highways, heritage, architecture, flood risk).

In the years leading up to her application for silk, Sarah frequently appeared against KCs, and was regularly instructed in the type of high level, complex cases that meant that she was well placed to complete a plausible application form for KC. However, although appearing in planning inquiries on a regular basis, and notwithstanding her extensive experience of cross-examining experts, Sarah said that she probably found oral advocacy the most difficult competency to demonstrate. This was because Sarah was very aware that she needed to demonstrate her competency in the higher courts, as well as in planning inquiries. However, ironically, success in the statutory challenges and judicial reviews in which Sarah was instructed often meant that claims were rejected on the papers, and that her cases did not reach court. Nevertheless, in the year that she applied for silk “the stars aligned”, as Sarah puts it, when her frequent instruction by the Secretary of State as “A Panel” Counsel, together with various instructions in judicial reviews, meant that she suddenly found herself with a critical mass of higher court cases. She was then in a position to list judges alongside planning inspectors as her judicial assessors, and to make her application for silk.

Sarah was encouraged to apply for silk by her Head of Chambers, Paul Tucker KC, Deputy Head of Chambers, Andrew Singer KC, and her Chief Clerk, Gary Smith. Sarah says that she had not originally envisaged applying for silk quite so soon after only 17 years’ call, and would not have applied did without their support, the confidence that they had in her ability to succeed, and their constant querying as to whether she was going to apply this year. It was this encouragement that “tipped the decision” for Sarah to apply for silk in the 2021 competition.

Sarah was very aware that, if successful, she would be an addition to a still extremely small number of female planning KCs. At the time she applied in 2021, there were only 6 female planning KCs nationally, and none outside London. Whilst this was on the one hand discouraging, Sarah felt that it was important that she had the courage to apply for silk when she was ready to, because otherwise things would never change.  As Sarah had experienced directly when she joined Kings Chambers and the late Frances Patterson KC was Head of Chambers, it was very important for those women coming up in the specialism, or contemplating a career in planning, to see that women were able to succeed as planning barristers.  For that reason, Sarah was particularly delighted to have been appointed KC alongside three other female planning and public law specialists this year (Melissa Murphy KC, Estelle Dehon KC, and Carine Patry KC), and that there were now some ten female planning KCs nationally. However, it remains the case that only around 10% of the total number of planning silks are female, and Sarah is the only female planning silk outside London.  In Sarah’s opinion, there is still a long way to go, and it is critical that clerks, barristers and instructing clients, male and female, continue to take the under representation of women at the senior levels of the profession seriously, and actively seek opportunities to support and encourage women to fulfil their potential.

Sarah found the KC application form “extremely challenging” to complete. The questions on the form required her to think about her cases in a completely different way, that is, rather than detailing what she had done in each case, to think about how each example allowed her to demonstrate the relevant competencies. In addition, Sarah had not had an interview since applying to the Bar and then for pupillage in her early twenties, so the process felt rather unfamiliar. Sarah says that she was extremely lucky to have had the support of her husband throughout her career, and also on her pathway to silk.  He provided Sarah with invaluable assistance with the competency-based elements of the form and interviewing techniques, as his own professional experience means that he is very familiar with this type of process. Sarah recommends that it is important to seek the support and assistance of others, whether that be family, consultants or colleagues, if contemplating this very challenging process.

As to the KC interview, Sarah found the Panel pair (one lay and one legal member) skilled in asking questions in a way that enabled her to feel “relatively relaxed”. Therefore, whilst the build-up to the interview and the period of waiting for the result afterwards were “nerve racking”, she did not find the interview itself too stressful.

When Sarah received the email from KC Appointments recommending her for silk, she could not initially process what she was reading. When she did process the news, she was “euphoric”.  Although the type of cases that she is now conducting have not changed too much, she feels that the “KC badge” gives clients an enhanced confidence in her abilities. Finally, Sarah says the KC ceremony was a “fantastic experience”, enabling her to share her sense of achievement with the family and colleagues who had provided such amazing support and encouragement to her over the years.

  • Date: February 14, 2023
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