In 1974 Barbara Calvert earned her place in the historical timeline of female lawyers by founding her own chambers at 4 Brick Court. Eight years later she broke another record as the first woman to become a Bencher at Middle Temple in 1982, where she delivered a reading in 2001 on the history of women at the bar.
It was a New Year’s Eve party when Barbara first considered a career in law, encouraged to do so by a friend of her first husband John Thornton Calvert. She left her role as housewife at a time when only 3% of barristers were women, joining the chambers of John Platts-Mills in 1959. From spending her time raising her two children, Paul and Sandra, ‘feeding the ducks in all the London parks’, she catapulted into the world of law and quickly gained a reputation for treating her clients like royalty.
In forming her own chambers in order that she could represent those who would otherwise be unable to afford to seek justice through the courts, she challenged the male-dominated hierarchy prevailing at the time in law. 4 Brick Court was swiftly nicknamed ‘the Monstrous Regiment of Women’, yet its founding ethos to help young lawyers starting out has remained an inspiration for newly qualified barristers. Her 1977 support of six young barristers to set up their own chambers further demonstrates her commitment to younger lawyers, and 1 Pump Court, which they founded, is still running. Coram Chambers was the product of a merger in 2000 with the family team at the set of Lindsay Burn at Queen Elizabeth Buildings, and continues to work toward legal aid and supporting women in the law.
In 1975 she became a QC, and was the first female QC to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights, successfully challenging the UK government for breaching a convention, as it failed to give parents a legal right to apply for contact with their children who were in the care of a local authority. She was again the first woman to achieve a lauded position when she was appointed the Chair of the industrial Tribunals in 1986, a judicial body dealing with employment law matters. She was also chairwoman of the Grandparents’ Federation, working on behalf of grandparents separated from their grandchildren and advocating the importance of the child’s wider family and support networks.
She died on 22nd July 2015. Her commitment to justice and her fierce determination have left a legacy proving that, in her words: ‘there is no height a woman cannot scale’.