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The Legal 500 Hall of Fame highlights individuals who have received constant praise by their clients for continued excellence.

H A L L   O F   F A M E   I N T E R V I E W

Senior partner Wesley Gryk talks about his successful work as a lawyer and predicts the biggest challenge for clients over the next year.

What has been your greatest achievement, in a professional and personal capability?

The professional achievement which gives me the most pride has to be my personal involvement and the involvement by my firm in obtaining recognition by the Home Office of lesbian and gay relationships for immigration purposes. Twenty five years ago, with a handful of brave couples prepared to challenge the Home Office, I was involved in the founding of the Stonewall Immigration Group (now the United Kingdom Lesbian and Gay Immigration Group – UKLGIG) which was created specifically to fight for the right of lesbian and gay British citizens and residents to bring their long term foreign partners to live with them in the United Kingdom – a right which straight couples had long enjoyed. This was in an era when public opinion, much of the press and the government of the day were for the most part of the view that the LGBT community should not be afforded any rights or protections whatsoever.

The inspiration of this initial handful of couples prepared to take up this fight in 1993 by lodging what then seemed hopeless applications had, within several years, inspired a groundswell of hundreds of other couples to take a stand and lodge similar applications. As a result of this momentum, in October 1997, the newly elected Labour government introduced a concession whereby lesbian and gay couples who could demonstrate that they had cohabited for a certain period of time could make successful applications for the foreign partner to live in the United Kingdom based upon their relationship. So far as I am aware, this was the very first recognition of lesbian and gay relationships anywhere in British law and was an important first step in the movement forward to civil partnership, marriage and the various other rights which the LGBT community has benefited from in the interim. Many members of my firm including myself continue to be involved in the excellent work of UKLGIG which now has its focus ensuring that LGBT individuals coming from countries where they face persecution as a result of their sexuality are treated fairly in the UK asylum system.

In a personal capacity, I am glad that, since becoming a solicitor in the United Kingdom, I have been afforded the opportunity on a number of occasions to take part in international human rights missions organised by organisations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Article 19. The single mission which stands out as my proudest achievement is a relatively low profile mission which I undertook with a researcher from Amnesty international to Sierra Leone during the civil war there in the 1990s. A significant portion of that mission was spent by us meeting with government officials arguing to get access to the Pademba Road Prison in Freetown, which was then notorious because it housed between 100 and 200 individuals being held without charge or trial as alleged ‘rebels’ and it was said that on average 10-20% of the prisoners held there eventually died as a result of the conditions. On the penultimate day of the mission we finally got access to the prison and, during our last two days in Sierra Leone, were able to interview and take brief details from every prisoner there (including some who were so sick that they had to be carried by their fellow prisoners to see us). Amnesty published a report within a few weeks listing the names of every prisoner being held without charge or trial and, shortly thereafter, every prisoner on the list was released. It was an example of the work of Amnesty International at its very best.

What do you do differently from your peers in the industry?

We are a rather unique hybrid of a firm in the field of immigration. Two of our partners, Alison Hunter and myself, come from a corporate backgrounds having trained and worked initially in large respected firms in the City and on Wall Street respectively. We both came to the our firm with a commitment to bring the same standards of excellence and attention to detail which we learned there to the representation of ordinary individuals facing immigration law challenges. Indeed, initially, for the first decade of our existence we were primarily a legal aid practice representing indigent individuals until we rather ‘flounced out’ of the legal aid system on a question of principle when we recognised that the cuts being imposed by the government on that system were making it impossible to provide the same level of representation to our legally aided clients as to our privately funded clients.

Fortunately, we have managed to continue to maintain a reputation as a firm which does high quality work for individuals and entities at both ends of the economic spectrum, ranging from the representation of the victims of domestic violence and trafficking and indigent asylum seekers to applications made to remain by high net worth individuals and for Tier 2 (General) sponsors’ licences lodged by a range of companies and institutions. We seek to offer all of our clients, from whatever background, equally skilled and dedicated attention to their cases and we aspire to train all of your young lawyers to be ‘all-rounders’ in the field of immigration who, in approaching any particular case, are aware of all of the immigration law angles which might come into play in a particular case. We manage to do this by taking something of ‘Robin Hood’ approach, financing our work for the less well off by charging those who are able to pay fair rates which almost always are significantly below what they would be paying if they were to approach a City immigration practice.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

“Don’t take yourself quite so seriously, Wes!”

Can you give me a practical example of how you helped a client add value to the business?

One of our clients, a leading design firm in the UK, approached us when one of their key employees in developing their international trade, a young Asian woman responsible for nurturing business links with retail outlets in her home country, faced the curtailment of her leave to remain and the possibility of removal from the United Kingdom because of the breakdown of her marriage. We worked with them to develop a strategy whereby the young woman was allowed to remain working with them in the United Kingdom during the time initially required for them to obtain a Tier 2 (General) Sponsor’s licence and, further, during the extensive period of time it took for them to obtain a restricted Certificate of Sponsorship during the period January – August 2018 when such Certificates were virtually impossible to obtain unless sponsoring companies were able to offer very substantial multi-national level salaries which were beyond the means of our client.

Within your sector, what do you think will be the biggest challenge for clients over the next 12 months?

In our bailiwick, the answer is simple and straightforward – BREXIT. And this is not only because of the complexity of ensuring that the rights of European nationals and their family members living in, and contributing to, the United Kingdom are guaranteed, which in itself represents a challenge for immigration lawyers. Probably even more significantly, one senses an often unstated undercurrent amongst those supporting BREXIT that immigration in general is not a good thing for this country. They somehow seem to view that immigrants represent a drain on the country and its resources, failing to recognise that the ambitions and aspirations and skills which immigrants bring with them ultimately result in substantial contributions to the country, its economy and the society in which we live. The Prime Minister’s inveterate dedication to the goal of reducing net migration to ‘tens of thousands’ feeds upon this undercurrent and is resulting in increasingly restrictive immigration law provisions and the hostile environment which we as immigration law practitioners must continue to do battle with.


Hall of Fame Interviews