Passionate about Law
Currently in his eleventh year at Blackstone Chambers in London, Jason Pobjoy is a barrister with a varied practice. He acts for claimants and governments in the public law and human rights space while also continuing to practice in commercial law, competition law, and sanctions. At the moment, he is acting for the Government of Ukraine in its human rights proceedings against Russia in the European Court of Human Rights, for refugee claimants in challenging the UK Government’s policy of sending refugee applicants to Rwanda, and for the UK Government in a series of challenges to sanctions designations.
Jason laughs a little when asked about his work hours — unsurprising given the diversity of his practice, they are often long.
One of the driving forces motiving Jason in his human rights work is the desire to use the law to secure greater protection for groups of individuals. Jason observes that the law cannot always provide people with a solution, and you will often need to turn to other methods of redress, but sometimes the law can give rise to greater protection frameworks for individuals.
“One of the things that I'm particularly interested in is finding a hook that will allow you to bring a human rights argument into a domestic court. This is not always easy in the human rights space… In Australia, that's often the most challenging part — how, absent a legislate framework, you bring human rights into the frame in a domestic context.”
Jason reminds us of the importance of acknowledging the human story behind each case, and that presenting their case before a court is often incredibly high stake for those individuals:
“I find that immigration work can be quite tough, because the consequences of a negative decision are so significant for an individual.”
Naturally, we pose the question: does being passionate about the work he’s doing make it all worth it? In short, his answer is – yes.
“I'm now at a position where I quite literally bounce to work every day. I love my job. I love going to work. I love the cases that I get to work on, the colleagues I get to work with… I really do love my job, so I think it definitely does make it worth it.”
The Path to Human Rights Law
Jason’s passion for his work is self-evident, but he had not actually started law school with the aim of becoming a human rights lawyer. He initially had his “heart set on being a defamation barrister”. It was while he was doing his articles at a large commercial law firm that his interest in human rights law was then sparked.
“I was doing a number of refugee cases for trafficked women. I started volunteering with the Refugee & Immigration Legal Centre, and a homeless person’s legal clinic…There was so much work at Mallesons and it became a big part of what I did, and it started to spark an interest in refugee law and human rights law more generally.”
Jason then enrolled in an LLM at Melbourne so he could revisit those topics, a decision which Mallesons was also very supportive of and even helped fund. This sparked his interest in human rights and his desire to study it further. He recalls that he applied quite broadly to study across the UK and the US and was able to secure a Commonwealth Scholarship at Oxford to study the BCL. During his time at Oxford, Jason also considered the idea of doing a doctorate degree, and subsequently obtained a scholarship to undertake a PhD in international refugee law at the University of Cambridge.
Commercial Firms in the Human Rights Space
Jason’s path to practicing human rights law is, in some respects, not a typical one. He describes his time as a commercial solicitor as extremely “formative” and critical to his future success.
Certainly, in law school, students interested in the human rights field are generally less inclined to enter the commercial field and vice versa. To this, Jason responds: “The dichotomy that people draw is not necessarily a fair one.” He explains that many commercial firms now have pro bono partners and teams that take part in big human rights cases. In his current role in Ukraine’s human rights proceedings against Russia, he tells us they have a significant team of barristers acting pro bono, with a fantastic team from a large US litigation firm and students from Columbia Law School.
Beyond finding opportunities in the commercial sphere as a student or fresh graduate, Jason also reinstates the importance of his ongoing involvement in commercial law to his own career: “It makes me a better all-round lawyer”.
He encourages those looking into human rights law to keep an open mind, and to not block out opportunities under the belief that there is only one singular route to get into human rights law.
“You don’t have to go and work for the UN, you don’t have to just work exclusively in human rights, you don’t have to be doing fieldwork with an NGO. There are lots of other ways to do it, including in more traditional commercial environments.”
Essence of a Human Rights Lawyer
In terms of how to succeed in human rights law however, he does have two qualities he believes are necessary, and he advises students to take all the steps they can to secure that.
“You need to be a first-rate lawyer and you need to have a strong intellectual foundation in human rights law.”
In establishing an intellectual foundation in human rights law, he references his decision to enrol in the LLM at Melbourne as an especially formative. That experience, he says, provided him with the intellectual foundation for his work. So, for those wishing to get that foundation earlier on at the undergraduate level, he suggests, “do what I didn’t do, and make sure you study human rights law and other related fields during your initial degree”.
When Jason is not practicing at the Bar, he spends time with his family, including his husband (also a lawyer and Melbourne Law School graduate), and his four children under the age of six. Jason discusses their upcoming family trip back to Melbourne — “after a long period of lockdowns, getting to leave London for some warm Australian sun is something they were all looking forward to.”
Prepared by: Amanda Lin and Erica Wheatley
JD Students MLS