Courtney Foster - Raising the Bar

Courtney Foster - Raising the Bar

CANDIECE KNIGHT

Monday, August 10, 2020

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DESPITE the fact that her brother's killer was never brought to justice, attorney-at-law Courtney Foster has dedicated her life to ensuring that Jamaicans are properly represented before the courts so that they can receive the justice they deserve. Having been a charitable child from the age of four, Foster became known to corporate Jamaica as the little girl who raised funds for the less fortunate through her Kids For Charity foundation. Now 33 and in her tenth year as a practising attorney, her mission has not changed. Courtney Foster still wants to help.

“I want to ensure that I make a change,” she told All Woman from her Duke Street office. “My goal is to do all that I can do to ensure that those who are less fortunate and cannot afford legal services get the protection, and continue to get the protection that they need.”

Foster began her legal career in 2010 when she was called to the Bar, and joined chambers with legal luminaries George Soutar, QC and Senator Tom Tavares Finson, QC, but she had known that she wanted to practise law since she was a little girl watching the legal drama TV series Matlock with her mother.

“And my godfather was a lawyer, so I had that kind of influence,” she shared. I was very talkative, and I was always an advocate for change, even from a very young age. So I think it was just my natural inclination to enter into this field.”

After graduating from Vaz Preparatory school, the youngest of three girls born to late columnist and pageant organiser Janet Sinclair moved on to Campion College, where she completed her secondary studies.

“And upon leaving Campion I went straight into the Faculty of Law at The University of the West Indies,” she said. “I must thank God because when I applied for the Faculty of Law, I remember they told us that a thousand high school students had applied for this programme and only 17 had been selected.”

Luckily enough, Foster, who had not selected a second faculty like the university had recommended, was among the chosen few. Her second and third years of study were spent in Barbados, as was required at the time, and that was where Foster blossomed from a congenial little girl into a self-sufficient and motivated woman.

“It was the first time I was living away from home so it kind of forced me to grow up,” she recalled. “I had to be cooking for myself, taking care of myself fully, and I also got to interact with so many people across the region. I still have a lot of friends who are attorneys who are from various Caribbean countries.”

After graduating from the faculty, and then the Norman Manley Law School, Foster was immediately thrown into the deep end to sink or swim.

“The day after I was called to the Bar, Senator Tavares Finson gave me a file and said, 'Courtney, you are going to do a bail application.' Looking back, I'm so appreciative to know that he put so much confidence in me.”

Foster would work with Tavares Finson and Soutar for two years, then leave to broaden her knowledge of the legal landscape in other parishes with Oswest Senior Smith and Company.

“I would travel from Kingston to St Ann at least three to four times per week, but I liked it. I interacted with a lot of interesting people along the way, and I really got exposed to some of the unfortunate experiences people, especially those who are detained, experience in Jamaica,” she explained.

It was during that year that she saw an opportunity to work with the Independent Commission of Investigations (INDECOM), and saw it as an avenue to help more people.

“I got the opportunity to work as a legal officer there, and I spent almost six years with INDECOM,” she shared.

In 2015 she was selected by INDECOM to attend a month's training at the International Law Enforcement Academy in Roswell, New Mexico, USA. There she was trained to conduct human rights research and appreciate the human rights challenges that exist globally. The following year, she was promoted by INDECOM to the position of senior legal officer.

“As a senior legal officer for three years, I headed the judicial review department. I dealt with matters that involved challenging and responding to government decisions. I also did prosecutions on behalf of INDECOM, and some other civil matters.”

By 2019 Foster felt as if she had reached the full extent of her contribution to the independent body and decided to return to private practice — this time on her own.

“When I am in private practice I have more flexibility to speak on issues that not only affect people who may come in contact with members of the security forces, but people across the board,” she reasoned. “And, also, I would be able to increase the individuals who I represent, so I decided I wanted my own private practice, and here I am.”

But setting up a firm from scratch and re establishing her name in criminal law was no easy task.

“The office set-up was challenging, but I value the hands-on experience. But after setting up the office it was time to put in the work. Thankfully, some people remembered me from private practice, and would refer a few cases to me, and I just had to build on that.”

She laughed as she thought about several prospective clients who were referred to her, and thought she was a man because her name is Courtney.

“They'll come in and say 'I'm looking for Courtney Foster', and when they're directed to me they will say, 'No, Courtney, a man' and I'll say 'I'm sorry to disappoint',” she chuckled.

Another reason clients might expect a man is that the area of criminal law is widely thought to be a man's field, she explained.

“Some believe that women cannot handle the gruesome details of the profession, practising in this particular area of law,” she said. “Even when I was leaving law school it was just myself and two other women who were at the criminal bar, out of over 70 people. But I'm happy to see that that's changing.”

Foster, who is also on the list of attorneys who assist the Legal Aid Council, is looking forward to growing her firm in other parishes in the next five years, so that she can represent more people outside of the Corporate Area.

Having received several awards for her contributions to charity over the years, she also plans to continue to give back in any way she can, both by volunteering with established non-profits and continuing her own initiatives.

“I just want to be able to unearth all the talents that I have,” she said positively. “I just think that the world is your oyster. And one thing COVID-19 should teach us is that we shouldn't be one dimensional, and so I'm looking for every single opportunity that comes my way.”


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