A day in the life of Shirley Shaw planning barrister

East Devon’s Shirley Shaw has a passion for law, which has taken her from a career in nursing to studying for the Bar and becoming a Barrister

Sometimes, to get to where you want to go in life, the journey you take can have many directions...I left school in Cornwall with five O levels to begin my nursing training in Southampton and ended up working at Southampton General Hospital for 16 years, having got married and had two children (both now grown and living in Southampton) along the way.

It was while I was nursing that I undertook a period of jury service and became interested in the court process. This inspired me to investigate studying for an A level in Law, but unfortunately there weren’t enough students to fill the class. So after chatting with a careers advisor at the local college, I enrolled on an Access course to see if I was capable of studying at degree level – and it seemed I was! So following completion of the course I was accepted at the University of Southampton to study a law degree.

While studying for my degree, I had to juggle two children and a husband who travelled a lot all over the world, but I still managed to get a 2:1. During my time at university, I became interested again in the workings of the court room, so after gaining my degree I enrolled into the College of Law to do what was then called the Bar Vocational Course. Having passed this, I ground to a halt. I was unsuccessful in gaining a pupillage, so to improve my office skills, I took a computer course, which had a period of work experience as part of its syllabus. I did this in the licensing team of the local borough council in Eastleigh and, to cut a long story short, I was successful in gaining a job with the legal team in Eastleigh, concentrating on their prosecutions for Housing Benefits, Council Tax and planning offences.

After five years at Eastleigh, I moved to another borough council in Havant, into a team-leading role and there I began to specialise in town and country planning, drafting legal agreements, giving legal advice and managing a team of ten. After ten years with Havant, it was time to move again. As I am at heart a West Country lass, I decided move closer to my family in Saltash, Cornwall and was successful in obtaining my current role as Planning Barrister here at the Knowle in Sidmouth, working with six other lawyers to support East Devon District Council in its work.

I start my day by looking at my diary to see if there are any meetings or court matters, which need urgent attention. I am often the initial port of call for officers and councillors who have a variety of questions in relation to planning, as well as other areas of law. Such as ‘can a dead person apply for planning permission?’ The answer to that is, yes, if the executor steps into the role of owner, they can, if necessary, continue the application process.  

Once I know how my day is shaping up, I can then start to draft documents or review drafts already submitted, which can take up a lot of time, although I do get a great feeling of satisfaction when permission is issued and buildings go up that I have had a hand in managing the impact of. As adviser to the Strategic Planning Committee I am involved in advising on the local plan and neighbourhood planning for the district and I enjoy playing a part in shaping the district.

I also conduct criminal prosecutions at Exeter Magistrates’ Court, involving people who have failed to comply with planning enforcement notices or who have carried out works to trees protected by Tree Preservation Orders. In a recent case, involving the cutting down of a protected tree, it was gratifying to see a fine of £1,000 being issued. I am also involved in public inquiries into planning appeals and will co-ordinate responses to judicial review challenges from the initial letter before action to the possible High Court hearing. Consequently, my days are varied and interesting and, with the help of the occasional shout outs for cakes in the staff kitchen, I am enjoying my work at East Devon.