Rudy Narayan

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Rahasya Rudra Narayan[1] (11 May 1938 – 28 June 1998) was a barrister and civil rights activist in Britain. He migrated to Britain in the 1950s from Guyana.

Early life and education[edit]

Rudy Narayan was born in Essequibo County, Guyana (then British Guiana), to Sase Narayan and his wife, Taijbertie. He was the ninth of his parents' ten children.

He emigrated to Britain in 1953 and took several casual jobs before joining the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. After seven years' service and promotion to the rank of sergeant, he left the British Army in 1965 and decided to become a barrister. He studied at Lincoln's Inn, where he was a founder and first president of the bar students' union. He was called to the Bar in 1967 or later.


He was a persuasive and eloquent advocate, specialising in trials arising from conflicts between police and minority communities and enjoyed much success. His trials included the Thornton Heath 10, Cricklewood 11, Bradford 12 and the Handsworth riots, the Brixton Riots and the Bristol Riots in the 1980s. Many of his cases were concerned with police violence against Britain's poor and vulnerable communities and he was considered to be a powerful speaker.[2] Michael Mansfield has written that Narayan "should have been the first black QC.[3] Narayan became aware that clients who asked for him were being told by their solicitors that he was not available. He protested and made public complaints against the racism he saw in the legal establishment.[4]

He was a founder of the Afro-Asian and Caribbean Lawyers Association with Sibghat Kadri in 1969, later renamed the Society of Black Lawyers.[5]

After condemning solicitors, barristers, and judges in Birmingham as racist, he faced his first disciplinary hearing in 1974, accused of bringing the administration of justice into disrepute. He was reprimanded in 1980 for being discourteous to a judge, and then acquitted of professional misconduct in 1982, after claiming in a press statement that the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions were in "collusion with the National Front and fanning the flames of racial hatred" (although he was suspended for six weeks for other infractions). Nevertheless, complaints like his led to the creation of the Bar Council's race relations committee in 1984, and an amendment to the Race Relations Act to prohibit race discrimination in the legal profession.

Narayan was elected as a Labour Party councillor to Lambeth London Borough Council in 1974, on which he served one term. He was selected as the Labour candidate for Birmingham Handsworth, but his selection was overturned when it was alleged that he made anti-semitic remarks in one of his books. The selection was re-run, and Clare Short was selected in his place and won the successor seat of Birmingham Ladywood at the 1983 general election.[6] He was successful in defending his clients at trials arising out of the St Pauls riot in Bristol in 1980.

He was expelled from his chambers in 1984 after assaulting Sibghat Kadri, by then his head of chambers, at a conference.[7] Narayan tried to requalify as a solicitor but failed the Law Society exams. He returned to the Bar, but was disciplined for overbooking himself by accepting briefs for trials that were to run simultaneously, and was suspended for two years.[8] He stood as a parliamentary candidate at the 1989 Vauxhall by-election, protesting that a white Labour Party candidate was standing in a largely black constituency, but he attracted only 177 votes and Labour's Kate Hoey was elected.

In 1991 he went back to Guyana, where he had hoped to set up a legal aid centre,[9] but met little success and returned to Britain in 1994. After further disciplinary hearings, he was disbarred in 1994 for professional misconduct.[10] He was accused of stirring up violence after speaking outside Brixton police station in 1995, following the death of Wayne Douglas, a 25-year-old black man, in police custody[11] (later shown to have died due to positional asphyxiation ).[12]

Narayan was guest speaker at the 50th anniversary celebrations of the NAACP's Legal Defence Fund in the U.S. The former U.S Attorney General Eric Holder paid tribute to Narayan at a conference organised by the Society of Black Lawyers in 1999 in London.

The BBC programme ‘Black Britain’ aired after this death in 1998 noted that Rudy Narayan was known for his internationalism and distinctive oratorical style. It described Rudy Narayan as one of the most charismatic and controversial figures in both Britain's black communities and its legal history.

He published several works on legal themes: Black Community on Trial (1976), Black England (1977), Barrister for the Defence (1985), and When Judges Conspire (1989). He was the first chairman of Lambeth Law Centre. He also wrote an eight-part drama series, Black Silk, that was loosely based on his life in which he was played by Rudolph Walker. It was broadcast in 1985 on BBC television.[13]


  • Narayan, Rudy (1976). Black community on trial. London: Blackbird Books Ltd. ISBN 0901813028.
  • Narayan, Rudy (1977). Black England. London, England: Doscarla Publications. ISBN 0950529605.
  • Narayan, Rudy (1980). Black vs White: (Discrimination against immigrants). Delhi: Kunj Publishing House.
  • Narayan, Rudy (1980). Passport to racism: a critique of the Conservative government's White Paper on British Nationality Law. London: New Life.
  • Narayan, Rudy (1985). Barrister for the defence: trial by jury and how to survive it. London: Justice Books. ISBN 0950666424.
  • Narayan, Rudy (1995). Blacks over England. London: Justice Books. ISBN 0951032410.


He died aged 60 of liver cirrhosis at King's College Hospital[14] in Lambeth, London, survived by his three daughters.

Personal life[edit]

He married Naseem Akbar, a doctor, on 5 September 1969. They had two daughters Sharmeen and Yasmeen before divorcing. He then had a third daughter Sita. He remarried Saeeda Begum Shah on 26 March 1988 , but they subsequently divorced. He was in a partnership with Belle Edwards at the time of his death.


A plaque honouring Rudy Narayan was unveiled on 19 November 2010 at the site of the offices where he practised law at 413A Brixton Road in Lambeth, South London.[15][16] The plaque stated: "Rudy Narayan, 1938 – 1998, barrister, civil rights activist, community champion and 'voice for the voiceless', practised law here 1987 – 1994".[17]

The Windrush Foundation held a public memorial for Rudy Narayan on 28 June 2018 as part of the Windrush 70 celebrations. There were tributes from Arthur Torrington from the Windrush Foundation, Yasmeen Narayan, Alex Pascall, Dennis Bovell, Keith Waithe, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Rudolph Walker, Peter Herbert and Marcia Willis Stewart.[18]


  1. ^ "Rahasya Rudra Narayan (Rudy Narayan), Barrister", The National Archives.
  2. ^ Sedley, Stephen (17 May 2018). Law and the Whirligig of Time. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781509917105.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Alderman, Geoffrey (1989). London Jewry and London Politics, 1889-1986. CUP Archive. ISBN 9780415022040.
  5. ^ "Rudy Narayan" at BLD.
  6. ^ Back, Les; Solomos, John (31 January 2002). Race, Politics and Social Change. Routledge. ISBN 9781134885268.
  7. ^ Sedley, Stephen (17 May 2018). Law and the Whirligig of Time. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 9781509917105.
  8. ^ "Council of the Inns of Court; Disciplinary Tribunal of the Council of the Inns of Court — Rudy Narayan, barrister of Lincoln's Inn", The Law Society Gazette, 28 June 1989.
  9. ^ Shaun Samaroo, "Rudy Narayan wants to set up legal aid centre here", Stabroek News, 14 May 1991, p. 11.
  10. ^ "Race campaigner Narayan dies", The Independent, 29 June 1998.
  11. ^ Nick Cohen, Cruel Britannia: Reports on the Sinister and the Preposterous, Verso, 2000, p. 100.
  12. ^ Peter Victor, Steve Boggan, James Cusick, "Brixton: Who was to blame? Activists may face 'incitement' charge", The Independent, 15 December 1995.
  13. ^ Black Silk (1985), TV series, on IMDb.
  14. ^ "Outspoken barrister fought for black rights" (obituary), The Birmingham Post, 30 June 1998.
  15. ^ "Remembering Rudy Narayan: Blue heritage plaque for SBL co-founder", Society of Black Lawyers, 29 April 2011.
  16. ^ "Civil rights: Rudy Narayan honoured", Operation Black Vote, 15 November 2010.
  17. ^ "Plaque: Rudy Narayan", London Remembers.
  18. ^, Rebekah Ford -. "Windrush70: A collection of events celebrating the Windrush generation | Love Lambeth". Retrieved 5 July 2018.