Timeline

1860

Maria Rye opens law stationer’s office

The office opened at 12 Portugal Street, Lincoln's Inn Fields, training women clerks in copying legal documents so that they might find work. Legal copying required skill and accuracy, and was a trade appropriate for women as it was 'lighter'; they could sit, rather than stand. Good handwriting was required, seen as a skill appropriate for women.
1878

University College London the first university to admit women to law on equal footing to men

Henry Morley, Professor of English, commented that 'I need not say how strongly I feel that it is the business of (UCL) to be boldly first in recognising fully any new and real want of time'.

Women could take their places alongside men at UCL and examinations were opened to them as well. An 1882 Punch edition celebrated this with a verse:

Traditions of the bygone days
Are cast aside, old rules are undone;
In Convocation Woman sways
The University of London.
1888

Eliza Orme became the first woman to earn a law degree in England from UCL

Eliza Orme (1848-1937) was the first woman in England to earn a law degree, in 1888 at University College London; she was 39 years old and already unofficially ‘practicing’ law out of an office in London’s Chancery Lane where she and a colleague prepared the paperwork for property transactions, patent registrations, wills, settlements, and mortgages.
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Laetitia Alice Walkington first woman to graduate with a degree of Bachelor of Laws in Great Britain and Ireland

Laetitia received her LLB from the Royal University of Ireland. She was unable to secure a suitable position as a solicitor or join the bar, and turned to coaching other young women for their examinations to remedy the limited opportunities for women in schools.
1892

Cornelia Sorabji from Bengal first woman at Oxford University to sit Bachelor of Civil Law examination

Cornelia Sorabji became the first woman to read law at Oxford University, as well as the first Indian national to study at any British University. However she would not receive her degree until thirty years later with the passage of the Sex Disqualifcation (Removal) Act.
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1893

Reina Lawrence receives her LL.B (Bachelor of Laws) at UCL

She went on to become the first woman councillor in London. However, she could not be awarded the degree to which she was entitled for another 30 years after the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act in 1919
1902

Gray’s Inn accidentally admitted Bertha Cave to the bar.

They later corrected this mistake, stating that 'males, and males alone, were to be admitted to practise at the bar.' Although it initially appeared that they had changed their minds on women at the bar, they later claimed that it was an oversight on behalf of the Inn.
1913

Bebb v. Law Society

In Bebb v. Law Society, Gwyneth Bebb went to the Court of Appeal to demand that the Law Society allow her and three other women to take exams so that they could qualify as solicitors. The courts ruled against her on the basis that women were not ‘persons’ but favourable publicity from the case helped the campaign for women’s admission to the legal profession in Britain. Gwyneth Bebb was the sixth woman to study law at Oxford, but was not allowed to graduate and was not awarded a degree on the basis of her sex.
1919

Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 passed, allowing women to enter the legal profession.

This law ensured women’s entry into the professions for the first time, after a protracted legal battle. It also stipulated that women would receive their degrees from universities on completion of study, and that women could act on juries and as magistrates.
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1920

Georgina Frost- first woman to hold public office in UK

Between 1909-1915 Georgina Frost helped her father, who worked as petty sessions clerk in Co. Clare, Ireland. When he retired, Georgina was elected to succeed him, but the lord lieutenant refused to grant approval, supported by an Irish High Court decision that she was ineligible. In April 1920 her case was heard in the House of Lords, by which time the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 meant that she was duly appointed.

First female jurors sworn in at Bristol Quarter Sessions

The jurors heard evidence in the case against William Henry Ayton, accused of stealing parcels at Weston-Super-Mare station. Women had been summoned to Colchester Quarter Sessions earlier that year, but this was the first time women actually served on a jury. The prosecuting counsel remarked that he was the first to use the words 'ladies and gentlemen of the jury' in an English court.
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1921

Frances Kyle and Averill Deverell first women to be called to the Irish Bar

It was the first call to the bar since the Irish Judiciary had been divided after independence from England. Frances Kyle had come first in the bar Entrance Examinations, and was the first woman to win the prestigious Brooke Scholarship. Averill Deverell was called on the same day, making headlines in Dublin, New York, London, and India.
1922

Helena Normanton first woman to join the Bar.

Called to the bar in November 1922, she was just a few months after Ivy Williams, and joined Middle Temple. She went on to be the first female counsel in cases in the High Court of Justice, also in 1922, and the first woman to obtain a divorce for a client.

Margaret Haig Thomas, Viscountess Rhondda, denied seat in House of Lords

Viscountess Rhondda was a hereditary woman peer, denied the opportunity to sit in the House of lords after the case before the Lords Committee for Privileges. She had served in a government post as Director of Women's Department of the Ministry of National Service, and in 1921 had founded the Six Point Group, pushing for women's equality in six areas- politics, occupations, morals, socially, economics, and legal.

Ivy Williams first woman to be called to the English Bar

The Law Journal in 1922 called Ivy’s call to the bar ‘one of the most memorable days in the long annals of the legal profession’. She was the first woman to receive a Doctorate of Civil Laws and the first woman to teach law at an English University.
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Carrie Morrison, Maud Crofts, Mary Pickup and Mary Sykes first women to pass the Law Society examinations.

On 18th December, Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor in England. For women who did not have fathers or husbands who were lawyers it was often financially impossible for them to get articles. Mary Sykes followed her, becoming the second female solicitor and went on to be a Justice […]
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1923

Matrimonial Causes Act

This meant that women could also appeal for divorce on the sole basis of adultery; previously only men could make this claim.

Mary Dorothea Heron first female Irish Solicitor

She worked at her uncle's firm in Belfast until 1946, mainly doing probate work.

Ethel Mary Colman first female Lord Mayor in England

She was elected for the role by the aldermen of Norwich. She was the daughter of Jeremiah J. Colman, a mustard manufacturer, who had also been mayor. Ethel was also on of the first women deacons at Princes' Street. Her sister firmly believed in women taking public roles, and her other sister Miss Helen Colman acted as her Lady Mayoress, believing firmly in education for all, and supporting women's suffrage.

Agnes Twiston Hughes first female solicitor to qualify in Wales

She joined her father's practice, founded in 1903. In 1949 she became the sole principal of J W Hughes & Co, and practised until 1961.

Margaret Kidd called to the Faculty of Advocates, the Scottish bar, becoming its first female member.

As well as being the first female member of the faculty of Advocates, and remained the only female advocate for 26 years, until she was joined by Isabel Sinclair. She was also the first female advocate to appear before the House of Lords and before a parliamentary select committee. The ladies robing room was situated opposite the condemned cell, and hot water was only put in after the second world war.
1924

Helena Normanton became first married British woman to be issued a passport in her maiden name.

She preserved her maiden name for professional reasons, believing that men and women should keep their money and property separate. In this year she was also the first female counsel in a case at the Old Bailey. Helen went on to become the first woman to obtain a divorce for her client, the first woman to lead the prosecution in a murder trial, and the first woman to conduct a trial in America.
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1927

Edith Berthen joins firm as one of first women to qualify as a solicitor (Hill Dickinson)

In 2010, Hill Dickinson was ranked as the sixth most female-friendly firm.
1929

Margaret Bondfield

Margaret Bondfield became the first woman to be appointed to the cabinet, serving in Ramsay MacDonald's Labour government. Margaret was also the first female privy counsellor, and had been the first woman to chair the General Council of the Trades Union Congress.
1944

Frances Moran became the first female Regius Professor of Laws in Ireland

The Regius Professorship of Laws was founded in 1668 and is one of the oldest chairs at Trinity College Dublin. She was called to the Bar in 1924 and took silk in 1941. She was the guest of the Sydney University Women Graduates' Association in 1953
1945

Dame Rose Heilbron was the first woman to lead an English murder case.

She defended Merseyside gangster George Kelly. Later in the year she appeared against another female barrister, Eileen MacDonald, the first case in which two women barristers had appeared on opposite sides of the case.
1949

Dame Rose Heilbron and Helena Normanton became the first two women to receive King’s Counsel at the English Bar.

Rose Heilbron was just 34 when she made silk.
1956

Dame Rose Heilbron became first appointed woman Recorder (Burnley)

1962

Dame Elizabeth Lane appointed first female judge in the County Court.

She was called to the bar in 1940 at Inner Temple, and became the third female King’s Counsel in 1950. She appeared in the official calendar as 'Mr. Commissioner, Elizabeth Kathleen Lane QC.'
1963

Eileen Kennedy appointed the first female judge in Ireland

There were said to be court rooms full of people who had come to witness the novelty of a female judge. Judge Eileen Kennedy also created another precedent by being the first female to sit in a court with her head uncovered. Judge Mary Kotsonouris, a solicitor's apprentice at the time, remembers the 'frisson of excitement at such daring'.
1965

Elizabeth Lane appointed High Court judge, the first woman to achieve this position.

She was assigned to Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division. From 1971 she chaired a committee investigating the operation of the Abortion Act. She is credited with finally introducing ‘Your Ladyship’ into the legal vocabulary after years of being addressed as ‘My Lord’ in court.
1970

Claire Palley became the first female law professor in a UK university

She became a professor of law at Queen's University Belfast.
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1972

Dame Rose Heilbron became first woman judge to sit at the Old Bailey

A year later she became leader of the northern Circuit and then became the second woman High Court Judge in 1974. Despite her background in criminal cases, she was assigned to the Family Division.
1974

Barbara Calvert became first female head of chambers in the Temple

She set up chambers at 4 Brick Court in 1974 with the intention of taking on legal aid work, representing those who would otherwise be unable to afford seeking justice in the courts. Four women were founding members, and the chambers became known as 'the Monstrous Regimen of Women'. She was chairwoman of the Grandparents' Federation and advocated a change in culture for accepting kinship care for vulnerable children.
1975

Sex Discrimination Act.

This made it illegal for a company to employ or promote a male worker with fewer qualifications or less experience than a female worker. It also prevented companies from demoting employees upon their return from paternity or maternity leave, and punished companies for not offering women employment on the basis of the nature of the work being inappropriate e.g. physical. It also specified types of sexual harassment, which were unacceptable. It was repealed in 2010 with the Equality Act.
1976

Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act.

Police given more powers to arrest and increased court protection of battered wives.

There was also a 16% female intake at the Bar this year,the first time that it was over 10%, marking a significant increase in women pursuing careers as barristers
1977

Mella Caroll was the first woman to practise at the Inner Bar in Ireland.

She was a Senior Counsel in the Bar of Ireland.
1979

Margaret Thatcher first female PM of the United Kingdom

Thatcher read for the Bar before being elected as the Conservative MP for Finchley in 1959. She held junior posts before becoming Shadow Spokesperson for Education, and entered the Cabinet as Education Secretary in 1970. In 1979, the Conservative Party won the General Election and Thatcher became PM, taking over from James Callaghan.
1980

Mella Caroll first woman to become a judge of the Irish High Court

During her career on the High Court she made several important rulings on controversial cases involving abortion, unmarried mothers, and bin charging. She never married.
1981

Dame Catherine Fiona Woolf DBE JP became the first female partner at city firm CMS Cameron McKenna.

She was a specialist legal advisor on major infrastructure developments and was involved with the 1985 treaty agreements between French and British governments about the Channel Tunnel. Her contribution to the legal profession was recognised with her appointment to Honorary Bencher of Middle Temple.
1984

Lady Hale first woman to be appointed to the Law Commission a statutory body that promotes law reform.

Important work from the Commission includes the Children’s Act 1989, the Family Law Act 1996, and the Mental Capacity Act 2005. She was also the youngest person to ever be appointed to the Law Commission.
1985

Dame Rose Heilbron became first woman treasurer at Gray’s Inn

1988

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss became the first woman appointed as a Lord Justice of Appeal.

She had chaired Cleveland child abuse inquiry the year before. Until 2004 she was the highest-ranking female judge in the UK, having chaired inquests into the deaths of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Dodi Fayed.
1990

Mary Robinson elected as the first female president of Ireland

'The future began at the moment Mary Robinson was elected' is a summary of her presidency shared by many. She won the right for women to sit on juries, abolished the requirement that women must resign from the civil service on marriage, and achieved the legal availability of contraception, equal economic rights, and the right to divorce.

Elizabeth Wall, first general counsel of a FTSE100 business

Her business is called EWPI- Elizabeth Wall Partners International, and provides global consultancy.
1991

Patricia Scotland became the first black woman to be appointed to Queen’s Counsel.

She was 35 years old, making her the youngest person in over 200 years to take silk. She specialised in family and children’s law at Middle Temple. She went on to serve as a member of the Commission for Racial Equality and received a life peerage in 1997.
1992

Nicola Davies became the first female Welsh QC.

Specialising in medical negligence law, she represented Harold Shipman in one of the most high-profile criminal cases of the decade. She takes an interest in events with a Welsh connection and is proud of her heritage. Nicola is described as having 'broken many glass ceilings', and is acknowledged as the highest medical defence QC in the UK.

Betty Boothroyd became first female Speaker of the House of Commons

Baroness Boothroyd was a Labour MP for West Bromwick and West Bromwick West from 1973 to 1992. She was the first female Speaker. There was some debate over whether Boothroyd should wear the traditional Speaker's wig upon her election and she chose not to, stating that subsequent Speakers would be free to choose whether or not to wear it. Tony Blair called her something of a national institution.

Barbara Mills QC became first female head of the Crown Prosecution Service as Director of the Serious Fraud Office

She held this post for six years, presiding over a staff of 6000. She became one of only four in her school year group to attend university, where in 1959 she made up no less than half of the cohort of just two law students at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford.
1993

Dame Mary Arden became the first female High Court Judge assigned to the Chancery Division.

She previously chaired the Law Commission from 1996-99. In 2013, BBC Radio 4’s programme Woman’s Hour called her one of the 100 most powerful women in the United Kingdom.
1995

Baroness Rosalyn Higgins first woman elected to International Court of Justice

She studied at Girton College, Cambridge, and at Yale Law School. She practised as a barrister and became Queen's Counsel in 1986, a bencher of Inner Temple. She has authored several influential works on international law, including Problems and Process: International Law and How We Use It (1994). She has received at least thirteen honorary doctorates.
1998

Dame Heather Carol Hallett became the first woman to chair the Bar Council.

She had been vice-chair in 1997, and went on to become Treasurer of the Inner Temple in 2011.
1999

Fidelma O’Kelly Macken first female judge on the European Court of Justice

She was the first female appointee, and had her mandate renewed in 2003 after her initial five-year term. Mary McAleese appointed her.

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss became the first female President of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice

In 2006 it was announced that she would become one of seven new life peers in the House of Lords.

In the same year Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond became the second female Justice of Appeal and the first woman Law Lord.

Diana Parker became the first female Chairman of Withers (a law firm in the top 100).

She co-founded the Family Mediators Association to extend the ambit of mediation to include finances as well as child related issues. She was the youngest and first woman to be appointed Chairman by any of the country’s top 100 law firms.
2000

Dame Mary Arden became the third Female Judge on the Court of Appeal.

She has questioned the reasons for the recent lack of women appointed to the Court of Appeal.
2001

Harriet Harman became the first woman Law Officer, appointed Solicitor General.

She had been Legal Officer to Liberty in the past, taking the first cases for women under the then new Equal Pay and Sex Discrimination Acts. She campaigned for prisoners' rights. As Solicitor General she led a drive within Government to tackle domestic violence as a priority, leading to a new law.
2002

Dame Janet Hilary Smith, DBE, became the fourth Female Justice of Appeal.

She was also President of the Council of the Inns of Court and prepared the high profile Shipman Inquiry, a report on the activities of a serial killer. She also held a public inquiry in 1991 into reported abuse of autistic children in Lancaster. In 2012 she was appointed to lead an inquiry into the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse charges.

Carolyn Kirby became the first female President of the Law Society of England and Wales.

Since 1999 she had also been President of the Mental Health Review Tribunal for Wales and was awarded an OBE in the 2016 New Honours list.
2003

Sharmishta ‘Shami’ Chakrabarti CBE appointed Director of Liberty.

Liberty is a pressure group that campaigns against excessive anti-terroristic measures after the 11th September attacks on the United States. She had worked as a barrister for the Home Office since 1996, having been called to the bar in 1994, after which she joined Middle Temple. In 2014 she was named in the Sunday Times’ ‘100 Makers of the 21st Century’ List.

Hazel Aronson, Lady Cosgrove, was the first female judge in Scotland

The Court of Session is the civil equivalent of the Court of Criminal Appeal. She was determined to study law whilst at school in Glasgow, but was told even in 1966 that her intention to join the Faculty of Advocates was a mistake because the bar was not a place for a woman. She was also a member of the parole board for Scotland, chairwoman of the Mental Welfare Commission, and deputy chairman of the Boundaries Commission.
2004

Dame Linda Penelope Dobbs appointed as a judge of the High Court, the first non-white person to be appointed to the senior judiciary in England and Wales.

She was included in the list of Britain’s 10 most powerful women and is a patron of the African Prisons Project. She specialised in fraud and professional disciplinary tribunals and chaired the Professional Standards Committee of the Bar Council.

Lady Hale first woman to join the House of Lords as a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary.

She was also a Professor of Law at Manchester University and received an Honorary doctorate from Glasgow University. More recently she gave a public lecture on the Protection of Human Rights in UK courts.
2006

June Venters appointed as the first female solicitor Queen’s Counsel (Venters Solicitors).

She founded Venters solicitors in 1991, a highly reputable firm, and she also sat as a Recorder in the Crown Court and County Court. In recognition of her commitment and dedication she was nominated for Law Society Solicitor of the Year in 2007.
2007

Patricia Janet Scotland became the first woman appointed Attorney General for England and Wales and Advocate General for Northern Ireland.

The office had existed since 1315, and in this role Baroness Scotland served as chief legal advisor to the Queen, Parliament, and the Government, as well as other bodies. She was involved in creating the Quintet, bringing together international Attorney Generals to consider issues of joint concern.

June Venters became the first woman solicitor to become a Door Tenant with a Barristers Chambers at Lamb Building.

This was a significant step forwards for the future collaboration of solicitors and barristers. She was a patron of the Young Legal Aid Lawyers Association and a Committee Member of the College of Law.
2009

Baroness Hale became the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court

She has had a varied career as an academic lawyer, law reformer, and judge. She specialised in Family and Social Welfare Law and was founding editor of the Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law.
2010

First female Muslim MPs elected

Labour candidates Shabana Mahmood and Yasmin Qureshi were elected in the general election of 2010. Shabana Mahmood won the constituency for Birmingham Ladywood and Yasmin Qureshi was the candidate for Bolton South East. A record of 22 Asian women stood in that election for all three main parties. Shabana is a former Oxford graduate and barrister and stood against another female Asian candidate for the Conservatives, Nusrat Chani. Qureshi, a Pakistani-born criminal barrister was chosen from an open shortlist of six candidates.

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi became the first Muslim woman to serve in the Cabinet

Baroness Warsi studied Law at Leeds University and went on to work for the Crown Prosecution Service. She also became the first Muslim to serve as a Cabinet minister in 2010 and was appointed as a chair of the Conservative party, the first Asian in this position. in 2009 she was named 'Britain's most powerful Muslim woman'.
2011

Lady Justice Heather Hallett DBE became the first female Vice-President of the Queen’s Bench Division.

She had previously been the Vice-President of the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal. She was the fifth woman to sit in the Court of Appeal, and was named as the 8th most powerful woman in Britain in 2013.

Susan Denham became the first Chief Justice on the Irish Supreme Court

She is the first woman and first Protestant to hold the office of Chief Justice
2013

Gabrielle Turnquest becomes youngest person in 600 years to qualify as a barrister

She was the youngest person in the UK to be called to the bar in 600 years. Originally from the Bahamas, she grew up in Florida, and came to London to become a barrister.

Lady Hale appointed deputy president of the UK’s supreme court

2014

Number of women practicing as solicitors overtake men for the first time

Record-breaking statistics show that 4,623 women compared to 4,609 men were practicing as solicitors in Ireland.

Nicola Sturgeon became the First Minister of Scotland, the first woman to be in this position

Nicola Sturgeon read law at the University of Glasgow and worked as a solicitor for Bell & Craig in Stirling, and then at the Drumchapel Law Centre, before being elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Sonya Leydecker first female CEO of leading law firm (Herbert Smith Freehills).

Before this, she had headed the firm’s global dispute resolution practise for 8 years and is recognised as a leading practitioner with significant expertise in cross-border disputes.
2016

Baroness Scotland of Asthal, Patricia Scotland elected the 6th Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations, the first woman to hold the position.

She is also a patron of CFAB; Children and Families Across Borders, a charity that reunites children separated from their parents. In 2014 she was appointed Chancellor of the University of Greenwich, and has received numerous awards for her contribution to law reform in the UK and abroad.

Ingrid Simler became the first woman president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal

She was called to the Bar (Inner Temple) in 1987 and was appointed QC in 2006. She has sat regularly on appeal sin the Employment Appeal Tribunal and will be the first woman to be appointed as President since its creation in 1975.

Leeona Dorrian first woman to become the Lord Justice Clerk: most senior woman in Scottish legal history

Leeona Dorrian, Lady Dorrian, graduated from Aberdeen University, and has served as a judge of the supreme courts since 2005. Christine McLintock, president of Law society of Scotland, said the appointment was a significant step forward for equality and diversity, also calling Leeona a wonderful role model.

Elizabeth Truss becomes the first female Chancellor

Elizabeth Truss was appointed the first female Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice by Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. She is the first woman to be in this role since its creation in May 1707.
2017

Lady Hale becomes first woman president of UK Supreme Court

Her appointment as Supreme Court president makes her the first woman to reach that level in the judiciary.
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