In 2010, the first Sikh to be appointed as a judge in England and Wales achieved a significant milestone by leading the list of lawyers honoured in the New Year Honours. Retired circuit judge Mota Singh QC, who presided at Southwark Crown Court, was knighted in acknowledgement of his contributions to the administration of justice, community relations and the voluntary sector.

Mota Singh, QC, made history as the first Sikh judge in the United Kingdom. Hailing from Nairobi, Kenya,  he received his upbringing and education there. During his time in Kenya, he served in various roles, including city councillor, alderman, secretary of the Kenya Law Society, and vice chairman of Kenya Justice.

Early Life of Mota Singh 

Sir Mota Singh was born in Nairobi, Kenya, in 1930. At the age of 16, he faced a tragedy when his father, Dalip Singh, lost his life while trying to save an Indian woman, leaving the family in a tough situation. Sir Mota Singh, now the main provider, had to support his widowed mother, five siblings, and his grandfather.

To make ends meet, he could not afford to complete his studies. However, his teachers recognized his academic talent and convinced the family to allow him to finish his matriculation. The school staff stepped in to support his education financially.

Glorious career 

He worked as a clerk for the East African Railways and Harbours for a short time. Then, he got a clerical job with a European legal firm in Nairobi. In 1950, he married Swaran Kaur, and they had a daughter in 1951. During the day, he worked to support his family, and at night, he studied to become a lawyer. In 1953, he went to England to complete his Bar studies, and he worked at the Indian High Commission there.

In 1955, he passed his Bar Examinations and returned to Kenya. He began working as a Barrister in Nairobi and quickly gained recognition. He was a skilled public speaker and received encouragement to enter politics. He started as a City Councilor and later became an Alderman of the City of Nairobi.

Despite his remarkable progress in just six years since starting his law practice in Nairobi, he chose to move to England in 1965 to practice law at the English bar. However, he faced challenges finding a tenancy in chambers and ended up working as an in-house legal advisor for a public property organization. Eventually, he secured a tenancy at 1 Mitre Court, Middle Temple, where he started his law practice.

After Kenya gained independence, Mota Singh migrated to the United Kingdom. In 1978, he achieved the esteemed title of Queens Counsel, and in 1982, he created worldwide buzz by choosing to wear a white turban instead of the traditional wig when he was appointed as a Circuit Judge. This choice symbolized the evolving, multicultural face of Britain and garnered significant attention.

*Based on an article written by Catherine Baksi, published in Law Gazette on 7th January 2010


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