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Gail Elliman, 1961-2014


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Gail Elliman was first and foremost a fantastically warm, funny and compassionate human being. She was also a socialist, a feminist, a lawyer, a trainer, an immigration judge and a coroner. Tragically, she died on 19 October 2014 at the age of 53.

I did not know Gail well enough to write a proper obituary and a closer friend of hers, Gary McIndoe, says that she wanted no memorial (In memory of Gail Elliman). I had such huge respect for Gail, though, that I feel I cannot left her death go unremarked here.Gail worked at the United Kingdom Immigrants Advice Service, later reborn as the Immigration Advisory Service. As I joined IAS and started my training fresh out of Bar school in 2000 a previous generation of lawyers had just left, including Glen Hodgetts, Richard McKee and Gail, all from the IAS Tribunal Unit. Gail was still there to deliver some of my training, though, and that was how I first met her. Her answer to a classic trainee question has always stayed with me. Asked whether she thought an example Home Office asylum decision was “right” or not she answered by saying the only way a lawyer could judge a decision was by applying legal principles: if the decision abided by those principals it was legally sound and whether it was “right” or not did not matter.

I once went round for lunch with her and her partner Ian in East London. On learning I lived in Camberwell they did me the huge favour of introducing me to Alabama 3, a band whose music I now love and one of the relatively few groups I’ve bothered to go and see play live outside a music festival. Gail wasn’t all about the law.

After that my catching up with Gail was done at Exmouth Market outside Taylor House in London, where she sat as an immigration judge, and at occasional immigration law gatherings such as EIN meetings. I remember her telling me she was considering applying to be a coroner. Always thorough, she had already done quite a bit of shadowing first to make sure she knew she understood the work and what it required. My absurd response was to comment that the area of work might be a bit morbid and upsetting. As she pointed out, it is so, so easy to forget how death and injury hangs over our asylum work. In later encounters with Gail it was clear she really enjoyed her work as a coroner, taking great satisfaction from it.

Gail was a very human judge, and all the better for it. Long before becoming a coroner, she understood that she was dealing with real human beings who acted in unpredictable and sometimes inexplicable ways. Her knowledge of immigration law and practice was immense but she knew that good judging was much more than an abstract exercise. She had no time for the preordained, prepackaged models of behaviour so beloved of the Home Office (‘a real refugee would have…’, ‘a real persecutor wouldn’t have…’ and so on). She also let her irritation show when she felt an advocate was letting down his or her client. That certainly included some of those representing the Home Office. She was very widely respected, though, and a Presenting Officer very kindly got in touch through the blog to express his and his colleagues’ sadness at her death and extend sympathies to her partner and family.

Gail helped a lot of people in her too short life, and helped them when they were at their most vulnerable and exposed. Her death is a terrible loss.

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.


9 Responses

  1. Such sad news. My deepest condolences to her family and loved ones. She was, indeed, a great judge. :(

  2. She I think used to write the ILEX Immigration Law manuals and those helped me better understand immigration law. I recall appearing before her and her thorough approach to the hearing. RIP

  3. I’m shocked to read about Gail’s untimely death. I learnt a lot about advocacy representing clients before Judge Elliman. What a loss to her family in particular and to immigration law
    Welcome Max Bhebhe

  4. I was privileged to be the CEO of the Immigration Advisory Service during Gail’s time there and I was sorry to lose her when she became an Immigration Judge (as so many lawyers at IAS went on to do) as she was such a valuable asset to the organisation. Her intellect was beyond doubt but she coupled that with a humanity which represented the best values of legal practice in human rights: a sympathy between legal rigour and the way in which legal principles affect those whose liberty and future depend on them. Her political views were forthright and firmly held: she was intensely concerned about injustice and the suffering of those who are exploited and abused by officialdom. Her early demise is a great loss to not only those who were close to her and those who benefited from her counsel and representation but also to the immigration sector as she had so much more to give. Above all, her warm and enthusiastic personality as well as her friendship will be remembered for a long time.

  5. OMG! This is really sad news. IJ Elliman was indeed a reasonable judge. If you had a good case it was sure to be allowed. If it was a poor case (which we all have at times) then expected it to be dismissed. She was simple and to the letter of the law.

  6. She was without doubt my favorite Judge. As a Presenting Officer and later in private practice I looked forward to having her as a Judge. She would not tolerate poor performance from either side and was never one to hold back criticism of the advocates. My first few encounters were bruising experiences, but she taught me to up my game. Some in the Home Office were critical of her in that their perception was that she was in favour of the appellant’s. My experience was that she was fair. If you had a good case you would get a fair hearing. If you tried to push weak points or illogical arguments her criticism could cut to the bone. By the end of my time representing the Home Office at Taylor House I could go into her court with confidence.

    When I began representing appellants was exactly the same. I had the pleasure of representing a client in her court this year and I got short shrift for the solicitors preparation. The Home Office then got the same treatment and the appeal was eventually allowed on the merits. It was refreshing to have a Judge who was so meticulously even handed.