Remembering Joanna Dodson QC

Joanna Dodson QC 

It is with great sadness that chambers announce the passing of Ms Joanna Dodson QC.

Called to the Bar by Middle Temple in 1971. As a junior, Joanna was involved in a number of child abuse inquiries, including those into the deaths of Jasmine Beckford (1985), Tyra Henry and Kimberley Carlile (both 1987).

As a Silk, she was involved in the Victoria Climbié Inquiry (2003); she also chaired a number of inquiries into the deaths of young men in custody. Joanna was described as a doyenne in her field and a fierce advocate.

ZH (Tanzania) is a case I have known by heart since my very first day as a pupil. This was the first time I had come across the work of Joanna. It was the first case Mr Kadri QC instructed me to read 10 times over. It has since been etched onto my heart. This was and remains a landmark case. At a time where we had such a hostility towards immigration, Lady Hale heading a 5 bench Supreme Court, changed the immigration landscape. 

Lady Hale in R (Williamson) [2005] UKHL 15 analysed the international law and the UNCRC on the rights of children and noted in that case, that it was a case about children where the battle had been fought on ground selected by adults and that no one was appointed in the Lords or below to speak on behalf of the children. 

That unfortunate situation was not repeated in ZH (Tanzania) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] UKSC 4 as the rights of the children were separately represented with Ms Joanna Dodson QC as instructed Counsel.

The case concerned two British children (aged 12 and 9 at the time of judgment) who were born in the UK the father was a British citizen and a mother was a national of Tanzania.  The mother arrived in the UK at the age of 20 and made three unsuccessful asylum claims, one in her own identity and two in false identities. The children lived with their mother at all times. The parents separated. The Court of Appeal upheld a finding by the tribunal that the children could reasonably be expected to follow their mother to Tanzania - para. 27 [2009] EWCA Civ 691.


25. Further, it is clear from the recent jurisprudence that the Strasbourg Court will expect national authorities to apply article 3(1) of UNCRC and treat the best interests of a child as “a primary consideration”. Of course, despite the looseness with which these terms are sometimes used, “a primary consideration” is not the same as “the primary consideration”, still less as “the paramount consideration”. Miss Joanna Dodson QC, to whom we are grateful for representing the separate interests of the children in this case, boldly argued that immigration and removal decisions might be covered by section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989:


“When a court determines any question with respect to – 

(a) the upbringing of a child; or

(b) the administration of a child’s property or the application of any income arising from it, the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.”

Lord Kerr at para 46:

“[…] in reaching decisions that will affect a child, a primacy of importance must be accorded to his or her best interests. This is not, it is agreed, a factor of limitless importance in the sense that it will prevail over all other considerations. It is a factor, however, that must rank higher than any other. It is not merely one consideration that weighs in the balance alongside other competing factors. Where the best interests of the child clearly favour a certain course, that course should be followed unless countervailing reasons of considerable force displace them. […] What is determined to be in a child’s best interests should customarily dictate the outcome of cases such as the present, therefore, and it will require considerations of substantial moment to permit a different result.”

I was over the moon when I joined 33 Bedford Row in 2014 having found out that Joanna was in the same chambers. I remember pleading with Mark Venables, our senior family law clerk, to connect me with Joanna. I remember Mark telling me that Joanna was very unwell and to take it easy. I am not sure that I did. I was an eager, newly qualified barrister, speaking to a silk involved in a Supreme Court case referred to by all immigration Barristers. I remember our first call in 2014 when I spoke to her. For the first 10 minutes, like a star struck fan, I quoted all the paragraphs I had used in my closing submissions. I remember Joanna becoming very tearful, I think she was impressed.  I had called Joanna as I wanted her views on grounds to take up to the Court of Appeal particularly the use of the welfare checklist as a tool within Immigration Courts. 

Joanna was so supportive, she said as Human Rights Barristers, if it sounds unfair, it probably is, case law will rarely support you, so make your own. I live by those words daily. 

A huge loss, a great mind and an inspirational Barrister!

Baldip Singh