Sunday, June 17

Opinion: Despite Baroness Hale’s appointment we are still far from gender equality in the judiciary


Last week, Baroness Hale was appointed the position of President of the Supreme Court – making her the first woman to hold this title. This was celebrated by many, including the Law Lady herself, as a remarkable step forward for women in the judiciary, but can it really be said that this appointment has led to gender equality in the judiciary?

Baroness Hale, a self-proclaimed feminist, should, of course, be celebrated. She has long been an advocate for better equality – both for different genders and different ethnicities – in the judiciary, saying that it is an important issue because “democracy matters”. Alongside this historic appointment, a second law lady will join the Supreme Court in October, Lady Justice Black. But, why – in 2017 – are we only just seeing the first female Supreme Court President, and the second woman entering the Supreme Court?

Men – mainly white men – make up over 70% of all court judges in the country, making gender equality in Courts in the UK the lowest in the EU. Alongside this, only 13.2% of QCs, the main group that future judges are chosen from, were female in 2015. There is an evident lack of equality in the legal profession, and this gap only gets wider the higher up the career ladder.

In the 2014/15 academic year, 49% of those called to the Bar were women. It is, of course, pleasing to see much better equality at the lowest end of the bar, and hopefully, this will lead to the gender equality gap closing at the senior end of the Bar and Judiciary in years to come. However, these figures beg the question, why aren’t as many women able to reach the senior end of the industry as men?

Baroness Hale instead raised this issue back in 2011, saying how “shocking” she found it that many judges in senior positions were members of the all-male Garrick Club in the West End. She suggested that this male-dominated, white, rich ‘club’ contributes to the mirrored image found in the Supreme Court and other areas of the judiciary; and it is this attitude which needs to change.

The attitude of many in the judiciary, like many other sectors of society, is still inherently sexist. Just two years ago, in 2015, Jonathan Sumption, a Supreme Court Judge, said that a ‘rush’ for gender equality in the senior judiciary should not take place, as it could prevent “talented male candidates” and “destroy the delicate balance of the legal system”. The same judge then said that many women are put off the bar and judiciary because of long, difficult work hours, implying that they would rather be at home raising children and such – something which is apparently not a consideration for men entering the profession.

This sexist, backwards mindset of just one Supreme Court judge embodies just why women are so underrepresented in the judiciary, and until this changes, the court system of the UK will continue to be controlled by white, rich, old men.

This lack of representation of women directly impacts society too. If there is little – or no – representation from certain groups within society, issues that matter to women, that matter to BAME people, that matter to impoverished people, and so on, will go on without full understanding in the Supreme Court – potentially limiting people’s rights and values. Baroness Hale is an example of how having a woman in such a senior position has benefitted women in Court, she has reformed laws surrounding domestic violence, for example, and has written and spoken extra-judicially about many issues that affect women. This only shows how, not only for the prospects of women in the legal industry but for wider society, representation of women – as well as other groups – is of huge importance in the judiciary. And, even with this appointment, we are still far, far from it.

Baroness Hale’s achievement – and that of Lady Justice Black – should be celebrated. Their achievements should help to at least crack the judicial glass ceiling, and will hopefully lead to a better representation of women in the Court room. However, the male-dominated nature of the Court is still very real, and we are still far from gender equality in the judiciary.

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About Author

Jess graduated from the University of Sheffield with a 2.1 in Law, and is currently an LLM International Law and Global Justice student. She joined Legal Loop in December 2015.

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