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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 advocate, specialising in trials arising from disputes between black people and the police, and enjoyed much success. Michael Mansfield has written that Narayan "could have been the great black" barrister of his generation. However, finding his career did not develop as he had expected, Narayan became aware that clients who asked for him were being told by their solicitors that he was not available. He began to make loud and public complaints at the racism he saw in the legal establishment. He was a founder of the Afro-Asian and Caribbean Lawyers Association with Sibghat Kadri in 1969, later renamed the Society of Black Lawyers.
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. He was successful in defending his clients at trials arising out of the St Pauls riot in Bristol in 1980.
However, he started to drink heavily. He was expelled from his chambers in 1984 after assaulting Sibghat Kadri, by then his head of chambers, at a conference. 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. 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, but met little success and returned to Britain in 1994. After further disciplinary hearings, he was disbarred in 1994 for professional misconduct. 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 (later shown to have died due to positional asphyxiation ).
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, which was broadcast in 1985 on BBC television.
He married Naseem Akbar, a doctor, on 5 September 1969. They had two daughters but were divorced. He remarried on 26 March 1988, to Saeeda Begum Shah, but they also divorced.
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. The plaque stated: "Rudy Narayan, 1938 – 1998, barrister, civil rights activist, community champion and 'voice for the voiceless', practised law here 1987 – 1994".
- "Rahasya Rudra Narayan (Rudy Narayan), Barrister", The National Archives.
- "Rudy Narayan" at BLD.
- "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.
- Shaun Samaroo, "Rudy Narayan wants to set up legal aid centre here", Stabroek News, 14 May 1991, p. 11.
- "Race campaigner Narayan dies", The Independent, 29 June 1998.
- Nick Cohen, Cruel Britannia: Reports on the Sinister and the Preposterous, Verso, 2000, p. 100.
- Peter Victor, Steve Boggan, James Cusick, "Brixton: Who was to blame? Activists may face 'incitement' charge", The Independent, 15 December 1995.
- Black Silk (1985), TV series, on IMDb.
- "Outspoken barrister fought for black rights" (obituary), The Birmingham Post, 30 June 1998.
- "Remembering Rudy Narayan: Blue heritage plaque for SBL co-founder", Society of Black Lawyers, 29 April 2011.
- "Civil rights: Rudy Narayan honoured", Operation Black Vote, 15 November 2010.
- "Plaque: Rudy Narayan", London Remembers.