Gwawr Thomas (2008)
Throughout all areas of her work, Gwawr retains a passionate dedication to promoting human rights and defending civil liberties, and is especially committed to publicly funded practice.
Gwawr's practice extends across a number of inter-related areas: this not only allows her to take a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to any particular case, but also offers continuity of representation to clients. Accordingly, Gwawr is able to offer a seamless service to criminal clients raising complaints about their treatment in prison or by the police; to defendants who may be facing deportation proceedings upon conviction; and to immigration clients seeking redress for unlawful detention or challenging refusals of asylum support or community care.
In appropriate cases, Gwawr is able to accept instructions directly from members of the public, through the Bar Council's Public Access Scheme.
- BA (1st Class Hons.) History - Trinity Hall, University of Cambridge
- Graduate Diploma in Law - University of the West of England, Bristol
- Bar Vocational Course - BPP Law School, London
Gwawr's meticulous attention to detail, tactical foresight and creative advocacy have earned her a busy Crown Court practice. In addition, Gwawr is frequently instructed to advise as to the merits of out of time appeals, both against conviction and against sentence, where trial counsel has previously advised that no grounds lie.
Gwawr's experience of volunteering with Bristol Youth Offending Team prior to coming to the Bar is especially valuable when representing young defendants. She is frequently instructed to represent youths committed to the Crown Court under the 'grave crime' provisions: recent instructions for trial have included acting on behalf of a fourteen year old charged with armed robbery and a fifteen year old facing an allegation of attempted rape against a fourteen year old complainant.
Gwawr has extensive experience of representing defendants charged with offences spanning the full range of the criminal spectrum, including allegations of serious physical and sexual violence, dishonesty, large scale public disorder, and drugs related offences, whether as sole counsel or as led junior. Examples of her recent work include:
- R v GH (Wood Green Crown Court, 2016): Defendant accused of murder. Complex psychiatric defences against a background of domestic violence. Self-defence was also left to the jury on the basis that inferences that might be drawn from the forensic evidence were sufficient to satisfy the evidential burden, notwithstanding that the Defendant maintained that she had no recollection of the incident which led to the death of her partner. Led by Queen's Counsel. To read media coverage of this case, see here.
- R v AN (Harrow Crown Court, 2016): Allegations of historic sexual abuse said to have occurred in the context of an alleged child marriage. The Crown relied on the evidence of an age assessment expert to seek to establish that the complainant had been only thirteen years old at the material time. Complex issues concerning the admissibility of evidence given in family proceedings also arose. Following a five week trial alongside his son (who ran a partially cut throat defence), the Defendant was acquitted of all sexual allegations.
- R v KH (Basildon Crown Court, 2016): Defendant charged with causing grievous bodily harm to his 8 week old baby, sentenced by way of a Community Order notwithstanding that he accepted his culpability only on the eve of trial. The Crown was represented by Queen's Counsel; Gwawr was sole counsel for the defence.
- R v AJ (Central Criminal Court, 2015): Gwawr represented one of six defendants charged with conspiring to evade over £2 million in excise duty, by illegally importing cigarettes concealed within consignments of frozen chicken. Following a four week trial, Gwawr's client was acquitted both of the conspiracy and of a linked money laundering charge arising from the seizure of £92,000 in cash found at his home.
- R v SS (Snaresbrook Crown Court, 2015): Gwawr's client was acquitted of causing grievous bodily harm 'with intent', having been accused of facilitating a vicious 'honour based' attack in which the victim had been beaten with a baseball bat, culminating in extensive injuries including fractures to his skull, spine and arms. The prosecution relied heavily on telephone and cell site evidence to seek to establish a link between Gwawr's client and the two co-defendants.
- R v MT (Isleworth Crown Court, 2015): Defendant charged with multiple sexual assaults - both penetrative and non-penetrative - against his stepdaughter, spanning a number of years. The trial called for the sensitive cross-examination of a number of witnesses in their early teens.
- R v GP (Harrow Crown Court, 2015): Successful application to dismiss counts alleging being concerned in the supply of class A drugs. Whilst examination of the defendant's mobile telephone uncovered extensive text message communication referring to the supply of drugs, the court was persuaded by Gwawr's submission that there was no evidence upon which a jury could properly conclude that these related specifically to class A drugs, in circumstances where the Defendant accepted that he was an established dealer in cannabis.
- R v Hunter & Ors  EWCA Crim 631 (Court of Appeal, 2015): Gwawr was led by Queen's Counsel before a five judge panel of the Court of Appeal, specially constituted to give guidance as to when a defendant with dated or unrelated previous convictions is entitled to be treated as being of 'effective' good character.
- R v MA (Harrow Crown Court, 2014): Gwawr appeared as led junior in complex confiscation proceedings arising from a conspiracy to launder £1.2 million emanating from a mortgage fraud, in which a number of members of an organised crime network acted as both the owners and purported purchasers of several high value properties using false identities (Operation Russo).
- R v TS (Guildford Crown Court, 2014): Television celebrity alleged to have perpetrated a series of sophisticated advanced fee frauds via two well-known 'daily deals' websites. The Defendant was acquitted of one count, whilst the jury was unable to reach a verdict on the other.
- SA v DPP, ex parte City of London Magistrates' Court (Divisional Court, 2014) : Appeal by way of case stated. Appeal allowed after the prosecution eventually conceded that satisfying the requirement that the constable be "for the time being engaged in the regulation of traffic in a road" for the purposes of section 35(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1988 entailed proving more than merely that the constable was acting in the execution of her duty.
- R v CG (Isleworth Crown Court, 2013): Gwawr represented a mother charged with causing or allowing serious harm to her baby. Despite the gravity of the injuries in question, which included broken ribs and fractures to both arms, sustained over a period of some months, the Court was persuaded to pass a suspended sentence.
- R v JD (Snaresbrook Crown Court, 2013): Defendant acquitted of causing GBH 'with intent' to a young child, on the Judge's direction, following Gwawr's challenge to the reliability of dental impression evidence.
- R v UE (Basildon Crown Court, 2012): Defendant charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm to a police officer, having allegedly struck him with a stick in the course of a chase, causing a laceration to his hand. The defence case was that the allegation had been a racially motivated fabrication. Gwawr's client was acquitted in under twenty minutes.
- R v LJS (Plymouth Crown Court, 2011): Confiscation proceedings in a matter of trafficking women for sexual exploitation and brothel keeping, in which the benefit figure was alleged to be in excess of £1.6 million.
Gwawr has a particular interest in cases which overlap the criminal and immigration jurisdictions. Her familiarity with the application process, derived from her practice in immigration and asylum law, often gives her a ready advantage over her opponent. She is also able to offer early advice and continuity of representation to foreign national defendants facing deportation upon conviction. Examples of Gwawr's work in this field include:
- R v MA (Isleworth Crown Court, 2015): Defendant charged with conspiring to commit an offence under section 2 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc.) Act 2004, having provided a false passport to his niece to enable her to enter the UK. In conference at court immediately before the preliminary hearing at which her client had been expecting to enter a guilty plea, Gwawr recognised the significance of the fact that his niece was Bidoon, and went on to successfully argue that this afforded her client a defence on the basis that the statutory 'reasonable excuse' defence not only applied, but extended to an alleged co-conspirator.
- R v IU (Isleworth Crown Court, 2014): Defendant accused of having sought to traffic two babies into the United Kingdom, by claiming that they were her own notwithstanding DNA and ultrasound evidence to the contrary. The Defendant maintained that she had conceived with the assistance of traditional herbal medicine, leading the media to describe the proceedings as "the miracle baby trial". To read media coverage of this case, see here.
- R v GP (Basildon Crown Court, 2014): Defendant charged with two counts of obtaining leave by deception and two counts of facilitating unlawful immigration, having made a demonstrably false asylum claim in which she had claimed to be an unaccompanied minor and a victim of trafficking. She had subsequently remained in the United Kingdom for some ten years, during which time she had been granted ILR and, ultimately, British citizenship; she had also played a part in facilitating her daughter's irregular entry. Gwawr was able to persuade the Court not only to take the highly unusual course of suspending the sentence of sixteen months' imprisonment, but to do so without imposing any additional requirements.
- R v SO (Kingston Crown Court, 2011): Defendant charged with facilitating unlawful immigration, having sponsored an application for a spouse visa made in a purportedly false name. Gwawr advised that a social anthropologist be instructed to comment on the Ghanaian custom of using 'house names', to show that her client had not acted with the requisite guilty knowledge: the Crown offered no evidence on receipt of the report.
Having previously worked as a paralegal at a leading prison law firm, Gwawr has a longstanding interest in the welfare of prisoners and detainees.
To that end, she regularly represents prisoners at adjudication and Parole Board hearings, and in civil actions against detaining authorities. She also has a busy judicial review practice in this area, accepting instructions in claims concerning issues such as
- the legality of a prisoner's transfer following an allegation of assault, where there had been insufficient evidence to bring a charge against prison discipline;
- refusal to recategorise on the basis that a prisoner had not completed a course for which he had been assessed as ineligible;
- failure to safeguard a young prisoner with a history of grievous self-harm and suicide attempts, such as to place him at risk of treatment contrary to Articles 3 and 8 ECHR;
- the legality of a decision to continue to hold an immigration detainee in a Category B prison at the end of his sentence.
Judicial Review & Civil Actions Against Public Authorities
Gwawr is committed to holding public authorities to account, through judicial review and civil actions. She accepts instructions across the spectrum of actions against the police, the UK Border Agency and other public authorities, including claims for damages under the Human Rights Act and in the torts of false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, misfeasance in public office, breach of confidence and negligence, as well as judicial review challenges in relation to matters such as searches of the person and property, cautioning, and determinations of the IPCC.
Her experience in the criminal courts not only ensures that she has a solid understanding of the substantive law in this area, but also renders her an imaginative and engaging jury advocate.
Recently, she has:
- advised in an action for damages in relation to an incident in which a vulnerable young woman with severe learning difficulties was kept in custody overnight when the police officer authorising her detention failed to appreciate that the arrest warrant executed was backed for bail;
- drafted particulars of claim in a misfeasance in public office and Article 9 action, on behalf of a claimant whose hijab was forcibly removed by immigration authorities;
- acted on behalf of several Claimants in actions arising from the unlawful use of tasers, including a Claimant who was tasered whilst on the ground suffering an epileptic seizure.
Asylum & Immigration
Gwawr is passionate about safeguarding the rights of refugees and migrants, and is well respected amongst those who instruct her for her clear and pragmatic advice, her lucid presentation of complex or novel legal arguments, and her sensitivity in dealing with vulnerable or anxious clients, including children and those with mental health difficulties.
Although enjoying a busy practice across all areas of immigration law, she has a particular interest in cases which raise issues of international protection and/or human rights. She has particular experience of challenging adverse credibility findings on behalf of clients persecuted on account of their sexual orientation, and is frequently instructed in sensitive cases involving victims of sexual violence (including victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation).
Gwawr has enjoyed particular success in challenging deportation decisions, drawing on her experience of criminal defence and prison law to bring valuable insight into issues surrounding criminal procedure, sentencing and risk assessment. She has acted in a number of cases arising out of Operation Nexus, challenging decisions to detain and deport where the Secretary of State has deemed that a person's presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good notwithstanding the absence of criminal convictions: for an example of one such case in which Gwawr was instructed, see media coverage here.
In addition, she has been called upon to advise and act in claims for judicial review, including:
- R (MV) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWHC 1017 (Admin): judicial review of the Secretary of State's designation of Bolivia on the 'white list', given the prevalence of violence against women and the lack of state protection afforded to victims (led by Benjamin Hawkin);
- a challenge to a decision to certify an asylum claim as 'clearly unfounded' and to remove the Claimant to Italy as a purportedly safe 'third country' under the Dublin II Regulation, as a breach not only of Articles 3, 8 and 13 ECHR but also of various fundamental rights enshrined in the EU Charter;
- a claim challenging the legality of detention where that frustrated the carrying out of a Parenting Assessment in concurrent family proceedings;
- a challenge to UKBA's refusal to process an EEA application on grounds that photographs submitted with the application did not comply with the published requirements, where the applicant was detained and accordingly denied access to a camera.
Where necessary in order to obtain urgent injunctions, she is able to draft grounds at short notice.
Gwawr regularly accepts instructions on a pro bono basis, from law centres and from Bail for Immigration Detainees.
Asylum Support & Community Care
As an Asylum Support Appeals Project duty volunteer, Gwawr regularly represents asylum seekers and failed asylum seekers before the Asylum Support Tribunal. As such, she is well placed to advise on the repercussions of immigration decisions in terms of eligibility for section 95 or section 4 support, and to challenge decisions to refuse or discontinue such asylum support (formerly known as 'NASS support').
Gwawr also has considerable experience of challenging local authorities' decisions in relation to the provision of community care to those who do not have status in the United Kingdom, and to migrants who do not have recourse to public funds. In particular, she offers expertise in litigating claims against local authorities in respect of decisions to refuse section 17 support to migrant children with no recourse to public funds. She is one of the founding trustees of Project 17, a charity set up to provide advice and advocacy assistance to families seeking to access statutory support, and to provide specialist training to not-for-profit organisations to enable them to better support such families.
Gwawr's recent work in this area includes:
- a judicial review challenge to the Secretary of State's refusal to accommodate a father with his partner and child, on the basis that he and his partner were unmarried;
- advising a mother facing care proceedings as to whether the local authority's failure to assess her community care needs as a disabled parent gave rise to a public law defence;
- a judicial review challenge to a local authority's policy of providing section 17 support at the rate that would be payable to failed asylum seekers under section 4 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
International Human Rights & International Criminal Law
Gwawr interned at the Legal Aid Department in Lilongwe, Malawi (in conjunction with the Centre for Capital Punishment Studies, based at the University of Westminster, supported by funding from the Criminal Bar Association), where she worked primarily on securing bail for homicide remandees, many of whom had been awaiting trial for in excess of six years.
She subsequently remained in Malawi to take up the post of Legal Officer at the Centre for Legal Assistance. In that capacity, she facilitated workshops in prisons to promote access to justice by empowering prisoners to represent themselves as litigants in person. In addition, she worked on a number of important public interest cases, including
- monitoring of reception conditions for Zimbabwean nationals deported to Malawi from the UK (in conjunction with Amnesty International UK);
- developing a project to challenge the use of child labour on tea and tobacco plantations.
Gwawr has maintained a strong link with Malawi. In 2011, she worked with the Bar Human Rights Committee and the Malawi Human Rights Commission on a judicial review claim brought by the Malawi Communications Regulation Authority (MACRA), seeking to challenge legislation allowing the President to ban radio broadcasts on the grounds of purported public interest.
Most recently, she has advised Reprieve on a number of issues arising from the resentencing of those prisoners whose mandatory death sentences were ruled unconstitutional in Kafantayeni & Others v The Attorney General of Malawi (Constitutional Case No. 12 of 2005). Such issues have included how the courts are to approach resentencing in cases where trial records have been lost or destroyed and the legality of reimposing a death sentence in circumstances where the sentence had already been commuted by the President to one of life imprisonment.
Gwawr is part of a team of five barristers assisting Justice Centres Uganda in the appeals of six men and one woman seeking to overturn their death sentences following their conviction for the robbery and murder of a local politician. Acting pro bono, Gwawr drafted grounds of appeal and written submissions for the lead appellant against conviction, raising, inter alia, the ineffective assistance of counsel where one advocate represented all seven defendants at trial notwithstanding that some of them relied on 'cut throat' defences, misdirection as to the burden and standard of proof applicable within a 'voir dire' relating to the admissibility of confession evidence, errors in relation to the cross-admissibility of co-defendants' out of court statements, and reliance on weak and unreliable circumstantial evidence.
Gwawr is also providing pro bono assistance to the legal team representing Thomas Nkulungira (known as 'Tonku'), who in 2011 was sentenced to death following his conviction for the brutal murder of his girlfriend, her body having been recovered from the septic tank adjacent to his house. The case has been widely reported in the Ugandan press.
In 2012, Gwawr travelled to Colombia as part of the Third International Caravana of Lawyers, joining lawyers and judges from various jurisdictions in a mission to monitor threats to human rights defenders, and to lobby the Colombian authorities to properly investigate these incidents so that those responsible can be brought to justice. She continues to be actively involved in the work of the Caravana.
International Criminal Court
Gwawr has been admitted to the List of Assistants to Counsel and is available to represent both defendants and victims before the Court. She builds on experience gained whilst working as a Legal Clerk within the Prosecution Division of the International Criminal Court: Gwawr was assigned to the cases of The Prosecutor v Germain Katanga and The Prosecutor v Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui. Her tasks included drafting submissions on the scope of victims' participation in the proceedings; conducting comparative research on the admissibility of hearsay evidence in various common law, civil law and international jurisdictions; evidence sifting and disclosure review.