Friends and Colleagues,
Today marks International Women’s Day. A day which we all must recognise and embrace, as the theme for the day implores.
It is a day not just to celebrate and recognise the equal abilities of women to men. It is day where it is necessary to highlight the need for equity. Some, I am afraid will ask, what that brings to the table beyond allowing for “equal opportunity”. Well, it is about crystallising those opportunities and enabling people to fill them. The aim ultimately is to strive for equality at all levels. There is no argument against embracing that.
Whilst we have made significant progress in recent times there is plenty more that we can, should and will do to support our female practitioners on Circuit now and in their future career paths.
But perhaps today, there should be less from me and more from our female Leaders about the significance of today and how we can move forward. I leave you with our Presiding Judge, Mrs Justice Christina Lambert and Kama Melly KC on behalf of the Women’s Forum.
Jason Pitter KC
Today, International Women’s Day, we celebrate the global social, cultural and political achievements of women. It is also a call for action to accelerate gender parity across all nations.
My message today however concerns matters close to home. Many will have heard me remark that, on this Circuit, we have too few women Silks and too few women judges. Those who we do have are brilliant. But we need more women taking their place at the table and bringing their views and perspectives to bear. It has been said that women belong where the decisions are being made and one of my main objectives as Presider is to encourage women on this Circuit to take their places in leading roles in the profession and the judiciary.
I do not for one moment suggest that it is easy to juggle a career with family life and to meet all of the demands which are uniquely placed upon women’s shoulders. It is beyond my reach to clear away all of the obstacles which may stand in your way but we need to make a start. I think it starts with a conversation with a friend or colleague. We need to acknowledge our ambitions and those of our friends and colleagues. Our career aspirations are not something to be kept in the dark, a source of guilty embarrassment but something to be discussed and nurtured. We need to support each other along the way with kindness and good humour. We have many allies and many who are keen to help and we should not be slow in seeking that help at the right time.
This wonderful Circuit is replete with women of huge ability and potential. I know because I have either met you or heard others speak of you in glowing terms. So on this International Women’s Day 2023, my message to you all is to have confidence in your skills and to aim high.”
(The Honourable Mrs Justice Lambert)
Dear Fellow Circuiteers,
When I came to the Bar in Leeds in 1997 I was introduced to a senior member of circuit as the new pupil…..he looked me slowly up and down, pausing salaciously, and said to my supervisor with a wink, “oh that time of year again ‘open season!’”, oh how we laughed.
A couple of weeks later in my pupillage course on how to behave on circuit, I was firmly told that although women were now permitted to wear trousers, “leader of circuit preferred to see a nicely turned ankle.”
I was also told that as there were 50% women coming to the Bar in the late 1990s that it would mean that in the next 20 years or so, that half the silks and the Judges would be women.
Well some things have changed and I would like to think that the comments I experienced in my first few weeks might have improved, but time certainly hasn’t delivered the change that I was promised in terms of representation of women at the senior end. Almost all of my contemporaries have left the Bar and certainly the publicly funded Bar. Even for those of us that stayed and have risen in the profession are often found in the work perceived as more female than male. Even in silk I am far more likely to be briefed in a case where a parent has murdered their child by horrific neglect than a murder committed by an organised crime syndicate.
The data from across all practice areas clearly demonstrates how in the first 5 years women and indeed others with protected characteristics are already earning significantly less and will have had less exposure to led briefs and the best quality work compared to their male counterparts. With less experience it is easy to see how this unfairness perpetuates throughout women’s careers and leads to lack of progression and problems in retaining women.
So whilst I absolutely welcome the attempts to support senior women into positions in the judiciary and in silk, the evidence is clear that we need to support women at the beginning of their career if we want to affect real change. The trajectories of practice are formed in the first few years and if women receive less valued work and less exposure to led work within that time they lose the knowledge and opportunities that are then gained by their male counterparts. If positive steps can be taken to ensure that women receive the same opportunities at the commencement of practice, then more of that work will follow and the experience and confidence to fill in those blasted forms will follow.
For now then one of the main focuses for the Women’s Forum will be on the fair distribution of work. We have an event planned in May with the leaders of the local CPS and intend to work with the other large providers of work to help them improve their equitable briefing practices. We also hope to obtain data as to how briefs are allocated. We will conduct our own research as to how this issue has affected women’s practices and later this year we intend to gather such experiences and collate them.
In addition we have a very vibrant calendar of events for the women’s forum please feel free to join us at any of the events.
8.3.23 – Reception at PLP 5pm – email circuit events for a place
24.6.23 – Zoom event on dealing with bullying and harassment
2.5.23 - Fair Distribution of work with Rachel Krys from the Bar Council and senior leaders from the CPS
20.6.23 - Advice on panel applications from across all practice areas
13.7.23 - Tailor made exercises for the Bar – from neck and shoulder exercises to breathing and grounding work to cope with stressful situations
13.9.23 - Making the Bar work with Family Commitments
2.10.23 - Tailor made exercises for the Bar – from neck and shoulder exercises to breathing and grounding work to cope with stressful situations
Nov.23 - Returning to the Bar after a break from practice
Further events to be arranged include specific events on fair distribution of work in the areas of Family and Civil Law.
Kama Melly KC