Kay Everett Memorial Award: Eda Seyhan

Eva Seyhan, winner of the inaugural Kay Everett Memorial Award for Law

Kay Everett was a remarkable person.

She read Law and Chinese at the University of Leeds and being the high-flyer she was landed a job at City firm Lovells. She was admitted to the roll in 1999.

After qualification she joined magic circle firm Freshfields in 2000 working in project finance. It was at a meeting in the Ministry of Defence that Kay realised the City was not for her. This was in 2003 just before the invasion of Iraq and there was an anti-war demonstration outside. Kay turned to her colleague and whispered: ‘I think I’m the only one around this table who would rather be outside with the protesters.’

In 2004 Kay followed her conscience and enrolled at SOAS on a masters in human rights law.

After graduating from her Masters, Kay joined Wilsons Solicitors. She was a passionate fighter for the most vulnerable of clients. Colleagues remember fondly her wonderful sense of humour and her optimistic catchphrase ‘what can possibly go wrong?’ punctuated the most tense legal dramas involving emergency removals and complex detention cases.

Kay Everett
Kay Everett

Kay keenly felt the injustice of any immigration detention. She was tenacious in the cause of liberty and adept at pursuing damages claims for illegal detention.

Kay was first diagnosed with cancer in 2009 when only 36. She fought the disease with tenacity and amazing dignity. She was absolutely determined to continue both her work and live life to the very fullest. In so doing Kay inspired all who knew and loved her.

Eda, congratulations on winning the inaugural Kay Everett Memorial Award – how was the experience? 

Thank you! It’s a great way to end my time at SOAS, and a real honour to receive a prize started in the memory of Kay Everett. I never had the privilege of meeting Kay, but have heard so much about her since winning the prize – it’s clear she was a fierce advocate for migrant rights and a great lawyer. The best part about winning the Award was meeting lawyers from Wilsons Solicitors, where Kay worked. It’s been almost three years since I stopped practicing law, and speaking to them about their work reminded me of what I liked, and now miss, about being a lawyer.

You received the award from Liberty’s director Martha Spurrier – did you have a chance to speak with her about any topics of interest?  

I knew Martha before the prize-giving – we met at a workshop in France last year. Although I didn’t get a chance to speak to her at the prize-giving ceremony, if I had, I would have told her how blown away I was by her lecture. It was a passionate and engaging attack on the UK’s system of indefinite immigration detention. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to go home and sign Liberty’s petition after her talk (speaking of – do sign!)

Is there a particular human rights cause that you feel most strongly about at present?

I think a lot of people consider the War on Terror to be a thing of the past – just look at the recent rehabilitation of George Bush’s reputation. But human rights abuse in the name of national security still abound. Drone attacks continue to terrorise civilians in Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Trump just signed an executive order to keep Guantanamo open. Closer to home, the pre-emptive reasoning of the War on Terror – strike them before they’ve even thought of striking you – has crept into our domestic laws. The PREVENT duty in the UK is the perfect example. Yet these are not significant issues on the political agenda – people seem very willing to sacrifice the rights of a marginalised minority (i.e. Muslims) in favour of their sense of security.

Your winning dissertation “Temporary Exclusion Orders: Beyond a Human Rights Critique of Pre-emptive Security” – in a few words, which I appreciate is difficult with a dissertation, can you tell our readers what it’s about? 

Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEOs) prohibit a UK resident, who is suspected of terrorism-related activity abroad, from returning home if they are deemed a threat to the UK. They are made by the Home Secretary with limited judicial oversight. My dissertation demonstrates how opposition to these measures was almost entirely from a narrow human rights perspective. It argues that, rather than focusing solely on how TEOs violate human rights law, we need to question the pre-emptive logic that underpins TEOs and many counter-terrorism measures – a logic that allows states to pre-emptively punish an individual based on a mere suspicion that they may commit a crime in the future.

What are your plans for after SOAS? 

I was working part-time at Amnesty International while I was studying at SOAS. The combination of space to think about issues theoretically and practical experience working in human rights was very intellectually productive. I have taken up a full-time position at Amnesty since finishing my degree, as a campaigner on counter-terrorism in Europe. I really enjoy my job, which involves investigating human rights violations in the context of counter-terrorism and developing strategies to end them. I may eventually go back into academia but for now I’m happy to be at Amnesty, fighting the bad guys.

Liberty director Martha Spurrier delivers the lecture.
Liberty director Martha Spurrier delivers the lecture.
Eda receives her award
Eda receives her award
SOAS's Brunei Suite has probably never seem such a large collection of barristers and solicitors passionate about justice for asylum and immigration detainees
SOAS’s Brunei Suite has probably never seem such a large collection of barristers and solicitors passionate about justice for asylum and immigration detainees

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