The Honourable Mrs Justice Kelyn Bacon DBE (1992)
Kelyn Bacon Darwin was born in Mumbai and moved to England as a child where she attended state schools in Somerset, before coming to Oxford in 1992. She read Law with Law Studies in Europe whilst at Merton, a period which included a year studying at the University of Konstanz in Germany. After completing her degree, she returned to Europe once again, to study at the European University Institute in Florence where she obtained an LLM (Masters in Law) in European Law. In 1997, Kelyn did her Bar Vocational Course, for which she was awarded a Princess Royal Scholarship by the Inner Temple.
Following her studies, in 1998, Kelyn went on to do her pupillage at Brick Court Chambers in London, where she was taken on as a tenant in 1999 and remained for 21 years, taking silk in 2014. It was in the following year that Kelyn was elected as a Governing Bencher of the Inner Temple. Her expertise at the bar lay in EU and competition law, most notably in State aid law and pharmaceutical regulation. As a barrister, Kelyn represented clients before the UK and EU competition authorities and appeared before both the English and European courts in numerous high-profile competition and State aid cases, including representing clients in 60 cases before the European courts.
In 2017 Kelyn was appointed as a Deputy High Court judge, and in October last year the Queen appointed Kelyn as a full-time High Court judge. This was on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor and the result of a competition run by the Judicial Appointments Commission. She is assigned to the Chancery Division and is believed to be the first individual from an ethnic minority to be appointed to this division of the High Court. She is the youngest woman ever to be appointed as a full-time High Court judge, and she is also the first woman in the 100-year history of her chambers to be assigned to the bench as a full-time judge.
Further to her work as a barrister and judge, Kelyn has been involved in other areas influenced by her passion and experience in law. She has been a Visiting Lecturer on State aid and competition law at University College, London and has also been a Visiting Fellow at Queen Mary University, London. Kelyn is the editor and main author of three successive editions of the textbook European Union Law of State Aid (Oxford University Press), which the publisher characterises as the “only fully comprehensive and practical analysis of the legal aspects of State aid in the EU.” In 2012, she co-founded the UK State Aid Law Association, a forum for examining questions on the practice of State aid that aims to educate lawyers and those interested in this field. The Association is also designed to add to public discussion and development of State aid law.
Besides spending time with her husband and school-age children, she is a trustee of a local charity and volunteers each year with a local winter night shelter for homeless people. Kelyn enjoys cooking, singing in her church choir, cross-stitch and playing the cello, which she took up a few years ago. Another pursuit of hers is attempting to grow her own vegetables – unlike with law, she has had mixed success.
“I met Kelyn before I even started at Merton. She approached me in the Bodleian Law Library and said she heard I was to be the new Law Tutor at Merton. She asked for help with setting a moot problem and informed me who she would like me to arrange as her tutors for the coming term. Kelyn turned out to be not only formidable, but also kind - as an immigrant, I will not forget that she looked after my young sons for a weekend, to give us a break, and allowed them to paint dinosaurs on her walls!”
Professor Mindy Chen-Wishart
Merton Fellow and Tutor in Law, Dean of the Oxford Law Faculty
Thinking of the first day you walked through the Merton Lodge arch as a student, what was your first impression?
It looked like a castle. If I had read Harry Potter at the time, I would have said that it was like being at Hogwarts.
Do you have a particular memory that stands out from your time at Merton?
Obviously the Time Ceremony. It’s completely bonkers. I did it in my first year, like everyone else, and it was raining, which made the whole thing even more bizarre.
Tell us something about yourself that we would not know.
I spent about two weeks at the start of my time at Merton trying to be a cox. My spatial awareness was such that we rarely departed from the riverbank. I gave up very quickly and enjoyed more hours in bed in the mornings.
What tips would you give your younger self to prepare for the career you have achieved?
Even if you feel very different to everyone else in the room, you have a place there. Be who you are, not who you think others want you to be.
Describe Merton in three words.
Ancient; beautiful; idiosyncratic.
Watch Kelyn in conversation with Ms Teniola Onabanjo (2004), a barrister at 3 Verulam Buildings, for an online event which took place on Friday 26 February. They spoke about their time at Merton, their careers, and the challenges and opportunities that have arisen at the bar since COVID-19 restrictions began. The talk was chaired by Professor Mindy Chen-Wishart, Merton Fellow and Tutor in Law and Dean of the Oxford Law Faculty.