Syed Refaat Ahmed
Arriving at Wadham from Bangladesh in 1983 to study for a Bachelor’s degree in Law, Bangladeshi Supreme Court Judge, Mr Justice Syed Refaat Ahmed remembers feeling not only a little daunted, but that he was taking a leap into a whole new world.
Determined not only to survive, but to achieve the goals he had set himself, Refaat, who represents the third generation of lawyers in his family, believes that his time at Wadham was formative both academically and professionally.
“In my first term, my tutor was the formidable (and rather scary) Peter Carter, who taught me resilience and the need to set my standards high. He gave me the tools I needed to adapt to my new life in Oxford and actually for my future,” said Refaat.
Cultural differences proved to be one of his greatest challenges. Although Refaat had seen ‘RSVP’ written on invitations to his parents, it wasn’t until he turned up unexpectedly at several functions at Wadham, that his then tutor, Jeffrey Hackney, took him to one side and explained what it meant.
When his second year law tutor, Christine Gray suggested that his insubstantial shoes were in need of replacement to cope with the snow and ice of an Oxford winter, Refaat was at first offended until a fellow student explained that it was because she cared about him. “She remained a friend for a long time” added Refaat, and it was Professor Gray who bred in him his love for public international law.
“I grew up and evolved as a lawyer at Wadham,” said Refaat, who returns to Wadham as often as he can to meet with Jeffrey Hackney, and to attend alumni events including Gaudies.
His career in international law has encompassed work for the UN High Commission for Refugees, where he counselled Vietnamese refugees in the US and Hong Kong, as well involving him in human rights and migration issues. In 1995 he became an active partner in his family legal practice and in 2003 was elevated to the bench, as a Supreme Court Judge, a position Refaat enjoys; “This means I get to work in all areas of the law, from constitutional right through to criminal, which is a constant process of growth, learning and interpretation of the law.”