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Putting the legal community’s inherent sexism on trial

In a recent article on Stylist.com, the lack of women at the top of the judiciary was discussed and made me wonder what it is that is going so incredibly wrong that the supposed pillar of our society is in fact not reflecting modern-day society in the slightest. It has always been the case that men have dominated the courts, but really the fact that this is still the case in 2014 is disconcerting. The consequences of not having hardly enough women in the upper echelons of the court system mean that, in the words of the Stylist article, ‘our nation is run from a largely male point of view’. How can this be fair, when women make up around 51% of the population, surely their point of view should be reflected?

It seems that maybe the reason for a lack of women is that the male judges are trying to maintain the ‘status quo’. In late 2013, the only woman ever to be in the highest court of our system; Lady Hale discussed the appointment of the senior judiciary and highlighted that the men dominate this process. She hinted at this idea of maintaining male dominance when she stated: ‘It would not be impossible to speculate that it is always much easier to perceive merit in people who are like you’, alluding to the fact that men may be more willing to hire other men instead of women.

The statistics in relation to female representation within the judiciary depict the dire lack of gender equality, as noted above Lady Hale is the only female sitting in the Supreme Court and even that poor statistic is better than the fact that not even one Head of a Division is a woman. However, the limited presence of women in the legal profession is not limited to those who are wearing the wigs. Indeed, there is a worrying statistic highlighted in the Stylist article which shows that despite 63.5% of trainee solicitors being female, the percentage of those reaching the position of partner ‘rarely goes beyond 20%’. Yet again, we are being barred from the upper, more rewarding level of the profession. The biggest question is clearly why?

Rosaline Sullivan argues that ‘women are lost to the profession due to its unwillingness to offer flexible way of working’, this seems to me a strong argument, but it is not justified. Just because we may at some stage wish to have children does not mean that we can be looked upon as unworthy or less suited for the higher more challenging possessions within the legal professions. An additional argument is that women may not suit the masculine working environment that requires ruthlessness and constantly involves networking in the pubs near Chambers or the office. All these reasons are also, it may be suggested, putting off women from entering the legal profession, in particular relation to the judiciary Sullivan describes ‘a reluctance to apply for the judiciary’.

So it seems that we are stuck in an incessant cycle, of reinforcing the old, stereotypical all male judiciary and also alienating the new generations of lawyers in the process. There is one glimmer of hope that Lady Hale, the leading Lady of Law, highlights: ‘things are improving in the lower ranks of the judiciary’. It remains to be seen whether this will spread through the system. Her observation is supported by the Stylist article in which it was concluded that ‘there are green shoots of change’.

I amongst many am waiting for these very small improvements to flourish specifically in the upper, prestigious areas of our legal system. It is clear that women do not lack the necessary ingredients to be a successful lawyer in these higher levels and something needs to be done to change it. Do attitudes need to change from the core, which I believe would be difficult, or is it that women just need to keep persevering to be treated as equals in the legal world, which clearly does not view them as this? Indeed, when reading ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan, it hit me that the protagonist Fiona, a strong willed, extremely effective High Court judge, may be confined to the fictional world, due to the arguments above. What a great shame that would be.

Isabelle La Gallez

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