Chaya Ray: BT’s First Female Lawyer

Published 6th June 2016

First 100 Years is delighted to share the story of BT’s first female lawyer, Mrs. Chaya Ray. Chaya and her ex-colleagues at BT have been able to tell us about her story in becoming their first female lawyer.

She was born on 21st August 1931, and was called to the bar in 1957. She completed her pupillage in Calcutta in India. She practiced in the High Court of Calcutta, but returned to England in 1960 after getting married.

Chaya then joined the John Lewis Partnership in 1961, working as a legal assistant in their small in-house Legal Department, which was all female. Subsequently, she applied to the Government Legal Service of the Civil Service Commission, and was appointed in 1963 to the Solicitor’s Department of the Post Office, which was at this stage a government department. She was the first female lawyer in the Post Office, receiving equal pay with the men for her work as a legal assistant. Chaya referred to a bound volume of the 1833 Telegraph Acts as her ‘Bible’, as they formed the statutory basis for the provisions of telecommunications services until the Post Office Act 1969.

This act provided for the transformation of the Post Office from a Government department to a public corporation run on more commercial lines. Chaya was sent as a delegate to a conference of government department lawyers to consider the proposals for reforming the Civil Service. Having worked with a focus in telecommunications business, she decided to join the new legal department of the BT Corporation, created in 1981. Colin Green, who became BT’s General Counsel and Company Secretary, was Mrs. Ray’s manager and remembers here as ‘ a charming lady, well-spoken and very cultured…she always wore beautiful saris in the office’. Not only was Chaya the first female lawyer at BT, she was also an ethnic minority, meaning that she was a true trailblazer during her career. After the BT was privatized in 1985 she took early retirement and turned to judicial work.

The Lord Chancellor’s Department appointed her as part-time chairman of three appeal tribunals on social security, disability, and Rent Assessment Committees. From 1990 to 2001 Chaya then worked as a Justice of the Peace of the Middlesex Area Commission, and was also appointed to Advisory Committees on Justices of the Peace, headed by a High Court Judge. She finally retired from legal work at the age of 70 in 2001.

Chaya Ray is an inspiring and dedicated woman. As the first woman and Asian to work in the legal services at the Post Office and BT she lived through a time of increasing diversity in business in the UK.