x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Frances Wright: Sierra Leone lawyer who fought for justice

Frances Wright would become one of the country's leading lawyers and president of the Bar Association in the capital city Freetown.

When Frances Wright returned to her native Sierra Leone, where she would become one of the country's leading lawyers and president of the Bar Association in the capital city Freetown, her arrival was not quite as she may have imagined. Freshly qualified at the Bar in London's Gray's Inn in 1943, that same year, at her mother's prompting, she took a liner, the California, back home. When the ship was struck by aerial fire and promptly started to sink, Wright managed to escape, but could take nothing but the dress on her back. All her other possessions, her newly acquired gown and wig, the mark of her profession, were claimed by the sea.

By way of Casablanca, she eventually reached her destination. Such an inauspicious return to the country she had left aged nine to be educated at Bedford Girls' Modern School, did little to dent Wright's indomitable spirit. Born into a legal family, she took over the Gloucester Street premises of her father and grandfather before him. There, she established a chamber of female lawyers, which went on to represent some of the largest companies operating in the country. Practising family law, an area traditionally overlooked in Sierra Leone, Wright developed a formidable reputation. Though it was unfashionable to do so at the time, she championed the rights of women and took on controversial cases that her peers would not touch.

In 1968, in the turbulent years following the country's independence from Great Britain, she led a protest against the regime of Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith who had failed to commit the country to civilian rule. It was behaviour typical of a woman unafraid of defending her principles. Ultimately, however, the unrest in Sierra Leone drove Wright back to England. In 1991, she retired from the law and settled in London. She never married and was childless. Her life was so private that her family only learned she had been awarded the OBE after finding the medal in a box under her bed after her death.

Frances Claudia Wright was born on March 5, 1919, and died on April 2. * The National