As the current Lord Justice Clerk, Lady Dorrian holds the second most senior judicial post in Scotland. This appointment made history in 2016 as no woman had ever served at this level in the Scottish legal system before. Leeona Dorrian’s status as a trailblazer began decades prior when she became the first woman to serve as Advocate Despute in the Faculty of Advocates.
Hilary Heilbron QC is an English barrister at Brick Court Chambers, with extensive experience in international arbitration and commercial litigation. She is also the daughter of Dame Rose Heilbron QC.
Yasmin Sheikh is a former personal injury lawyer and the founder of Diverse Matters, a consultancy that trains organisations on how to confidently approach disability and effectively tap into diverse talent. The organisation does this through training, coaching, mentoring, talks and webinars. Yasmin is also a speaker, thought leader and Vice Chair of the Lawyers with Disabilities Division at the Law Society.
Funke Abimbola MBE is a solicitor who has consistently used her voice to champion equality and diversity in the legal profession. She is the former UK General Counsel of Roche, the world’s largest biotech company. In June 2017, Funke was awarded an MBE for services to diversity in the legal profession and to young people.
Laura is the President of the Mental Health Tribunal for Scotland and Procurator to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. She is an expert in civil litigation, with a particular focus on delict and public law. This has seen her serve as Senior Counsel to the Penrose Inquiry and as the first female Scottish Law Commissioner.
Dame Alison Saunders was the second ever female Director of Public Prosecutions and the first lawyer from within the CPS to be appointed to the role. Alison is now a Dispute Resolution Partner at Linklaters.
Carolyn McCombe is the former Chief Executive of 4 Pump Court, a role which was newly created when she filled its shoes. Carolyn began her career as a litigation solicitor, rising to partner by age 30, before taking the unusual step of joining a barrister’s chambers as a junior clerk. Since then, she has risen through the profession to become a leader in practice management.
An exclusive interview with Dame Fiona Woolf for First 100 Years. Fiona is a British corporate lawyer, and served as Lord Mayor of London 2013-2014, the second woman in 800 years. Born in Edinburgh, Fiona qualified as a solicitor in 1973. She worked at CMS and became the firm’s first female partner in 1981.
Dame Vera Baird QC is currently the Victims’ Commissioner for England & Wales, responsible for promoting the interests of victims and witnesses of crime. She previously served as a Labour MP, the Solicitor General for England & Wales and a Police and Crime Commissioner. This was after practising as a criminal barrister for many years.
At the age of 31, Briony Clarke became one of the youngest ever female judges in the UK upon her appointment as a Deputy District Judge in 2017. Alongside her part-time appointment, she practised as a criminal law solicitor. Briony is now a full time District Judge and sits in Birmingham.
Anna Midgley was the youngest woman appointed a judge when she was appointed as a Crown Court Recorder in 2016 aged 33. She is also a criminal barrister, specialising in a broad spectrum of offences.
My great-grandmother’s life was a series of firsts for the female legal profession. Beginning her career as the first woman called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn, being the first woman to appear at the Manchester Bar and the first to be presented with a ‘red bag’, by age 28, Edith had already made history three times. However, her greatest legal achievement was undoubtedly being the first woman to preside over the County Court as a Deputy Judge.
Edith’s legacy as a trailblazer is seen not only in the legal profession as a whole but also in my own family. One of Edith’s daughters, Anne, (my grandmother), followed in her mother’s footsteps and was called to the Bar in 1951. Subsequently, one of Anne’s daughters, Helen, (my mother) pursued a career in law, qualifying as a solicitor. As a law student myself, and therefore, of the fourth generation of women to study law in my family, I have come to appreciate Edith’s story on a personal level.
We’ve got a woman on the Bench today.
Edith Hesling was born in Flixton, Manchester on the 22nd June 1899 to William Hesling, a wholesale merchant and Emma Edith Fairbairn. She was the eldest of four children and was raised in Heaton Moor, Stockport. After attending the Manchester High School for Girls, Edith was awarded a law degree from the Victoria University of Manchester (now the University of Manchester). A year later, on the 13th June 1923, Edith earned the distinction of being the first woman called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn. The historical significance of this moment is best captured by Edith’s admission slip from 1920 which reads ‘Received of Miss Edith Hesling the sum of Five Guineas on his admission to the Honourable Society.’
In 1927, Edith’s personal life changed significantly. On the 28th July, Edith married Frank Bradbury, with whom she had three children, twins Anne and Judith born in 1929, and Elizabeth born in 1934. Although legally she became Edith Bradbury, Edith continued to practise law under her maiden name. During the Second World War, while all three of her children were evacuated to Wales, Edith worked as an Enforcement Officer with the Ministry of Food.
On the 12th March 1946, Edith made Manchester headlines once again. Deputising for Judge F.R Batt, who had fallen ill the night before, Edith was the first woman to preside over the County Court. One newspaper seemed to communicate genuine surprise, with the heading, ‘Woman acts as Judge’, while another plainly stated, ‘Mrs Bradbury becomes Judge Edith for a day.’ According to the Express Newspaper, the Court Officials, ‘knew nothing of the change until they saw a tall, middle-aged woman in a black fur coat and felt hat step off the 8:40am Manchester-Macclesfield bus.’ Mr Dyer, clerk to the court “broke the news to the waiting counsel: ‘we’ve got a woman on the Bench today.’” The claimant is said to have made Edith smile by wrongly referring to her as ‘M’Lud’, while the ‘witnesses played for safety’ referring to her as ‘your Honour’.
After two hours work, Edith ‘lunched in the same room as four of the people over whom she had given judgement’ and ‘caught the bus to Manchester where she was due to give a law lecture at the college of Technology at 4pm.’ That evening, at her home in Whalley Range, Edith ‘had tea with her schoolmaster husband and children,’ a clear demonstration that apart from her achievements, she was an ordinary wife and mother.
Edith was actively involved in advancing women’s rights
On the 6th June 1951, Edith distinguished herself once more, this time alongside her 22 year old daughter, Anne, who, that evening was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn. They were the first mother and daughter to be members together at the English Bar. In response to requests to interview Anne, Edith is reported as declaring ‘You may not speak to Anne. It would not be in keeping with the dignity of Gray’s Inn.’
In her spare time, Edith was actively involved in advancing women’s rights. She was the President of the Women’s Citizen Association in 1932, President of the Manchester Soroptimist Club in 1934, and vice-president of the Manchester branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1936. Edith was also involved in various administrative tribunals, being awarded an OBE in 1951 for her position as Deputy Chairman of the Rubber Manufacturing (Great Britain) Wages Council.
Sadly, on June 19th, 1971 Edith died at her home in Manchester, aged 71.
Edith set many precedents in her career at the Bar and her story continues to inspire not only her family, but subsequent generations of women in the legal profession.
By Deborah Airey, 2nd Year Law Student at the University of Leicester
Janet Cohen, Baroness Cohen of Pimlico is a British lawyer and crime fiction writer. She sits in the House of Lords as a Labour peer.
Janet Hayes of Necton Consulting – Potential in People has recently completed some in-depth research into women’s journeys to partnership in professional services, interviewing lawyers as well as accountants and consultants. This was for an MSc in Coaching and Behavioural Change at Henley Business School.
Why is this important?
Women are still significantly under-represented at senior levels in organisations, despite decades-old equal opportunity and pay legislation and organisations’ focus on diversity. In large professional services firms, like PwC where Janet spent 18 years of her coaching and HR career, in 2017 fewer than 20% of partners were women. In the top ten UK law firms, the proportion of female full equity partners in 2018 was 19% (2013: 16%), although generally law firms recruit more women than men at trainee level.
In 2018, McKinsey’s researchers found that companies who were in the top 25% for the gender diversity of their executive team were 21% more likely to outperform on profitability. Inevitably, having fewer female leaders has a detrimental effect on organisations’ overall gender pay gaps.
Summary of findings
The women partners identified several closely interlinked influences from all stages of their careers that affected their choices in their transition to partnership. How these influences worked dynamically together was fundamental to the women’s identities. Their earlier experiences were key, their value being supported by cumulative advantage theory which maintains that a small advantage compounds over time into an ever-greater advantage.
Having early leadership responsibility seemed to play a key role in building individuals’ sense of self-efficacy, which in turn fostered adaptability and resilience. Neuroscience supports this finding by maintaining that early leadership responsibility prepares and inspires young adults to assume leadership roles.
How can women become leaders?
Seize early responsibility, supported by sponsors, mentors and coaches. Neuroscience tells us that early leadership responsibility prepares and inspires young adults to assume leadership roles. This small advantage over others then builds into an ever-greater advantage as women progress, building their sense of self-efficacy, which in turn fosters their adaptability and resilience, necessary to compete and lead in a volatile and uncertain world.
Raise profile: Raise profile: Women often believe that hard work is enough to get them promoted. It might be at the junior levels, but this changes. When those better at self-promotion advance ahead of them, women realise that they need to raise their profile and play the “political game” to be fairly rewarded for their achievements. Others can help with this: seeking out at least one sponsor is key to being represented at leadership level, and a coach can help women to publicise their achievements whilst remaining authentic.
How can organisations help?
– Give women the opportunity for early leadership responsibility. This will include encouragement and recognition from a wide range of other people, particularly sponsors, but also peers and their teams, as well as access to a coach at an early stage. Peer groups, both men and women, are especially appreciated for moral support with complex lives.
– Explicitly place more reliance on female values and definitions of success
– Use technology to support a flexible working culture where output is rewarded rather than input
– Identify and give more profile to female leaders to act as role models.
And outside of work?
Informal networks and those around women at home are invaluable, especially if the women have children. Of the women leaders with children that Janet interviewed, more than 50% have partners at home that are at least as involved in childcare as they are.
Student Emma Barker discusses how the First 100 Years campaign gave her the spark to write a fascinating A-level dissertation, diving into the social change and fearless campaigning that led to the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919:
The First 100 Years campaign inspired me to research the history of women in the legal profession for my Extended Project Qualification (EPQ), the equivalent of half an A level. I discovered the First 100 Years campaign after a summer placement at a London Law Firm and subsequently won a school history competition when I used this knowledge to submit an essay on Helena Normanton, who was the first woman to be admitted into the Middle Temple. Although Normanton is not well known, her advocacy of equal pay, equal rights and female independence remain key issues today.
The lack of awareness about the first women in law as well as the upcoming centenary of the Sex Disqualification (removal) Act in December encouraged me to focus my EPQ on this topic. I spent a week studying primary resources in the archives of the Women’s Library at the London School of Economics. In order to gain an insight into views of the time, I read the Law Society Journal and Solicitors Journal at The Law Society Library. At ‘The Road to 1919’ symposium, at the Houses of Parliament, I discussed my EPQ with current researchers, including Judith Bourne a lecturer and leading author on Normanton. Following my research, I wrote a 5,000-word dissertation with the following dissertation title: To what extent was the admission of female lawyers into the UK law profession in 1919, under the Sex Disqualification (removal) Act, caused by the women’s suffrage movement?
My research explored the three main causes for the passing of the Sex Disqualification (removal) Act in December 1919. These causes were the women’s suffrage movement, the social and political context and the campaign by aspiring female lawyers, particularly the role of Helena Normanton and Ivy Williams.
At the end of my research I came to the conclusion that the women’s suffrage movement was not the lone cause for the passing of the Sex Disqualification (removal) Act in 1919. The suffrage movement was an important context for the Act as the suffrage movement demonstrated the need for equality. The passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 set the tone for the changes to come, arguably, anticipating the passing of the Sex Disqualification (removal) Act in 1919. Nevertheless, the persistent campaigning of aspiring female lawyers and certain male MPs helped to maintain the publicity for the cause within the press and Parliament. Although, the Emancipation Act was the final push towards the passing of the Sex Disqualification (removal) Act, I concluded that the sustained movement of aspiring female lawyers was a more significant cause as it helped accelerate the movement. Without the aspiring female lawyers’ desire to challenge public opinion and push open the legal profession to women the British Government would not have been pressured to pass the Sex Disqualification (removal) Act only a year after the Representation of the People Act.
by Emma Barker
Catherine Johnson is Group General Counsel at the London Stock Exchange. She advises the Board and senior executives on key legal matters and strategic initiatives, and previously was head of the Group’s Regulatory Strategy team. Catherine qualified as a lawyer at Herbert Smith in 1993.
Sabine is the Group General Counsel of BT, having worked all over the world, including in-house for two global beverage companies between 1993 – 2017.
Eleanor Sharpston QC has combined a career in practise at the Bar (specialising in European Union and ECHR Law) with an academic career first at UCL and then in Cambridge where she was a University Lecturer from 1992 to 1998 and an Affiliated Lecturer from 1998 to 2006. In January 2006 Eleanor took up the post of Advocate General at the European Court of Justice.
Rosemary is Group General Counsel and Company Secretary at Vodafone. She has been strongly involved in promoting innovation and diversity in the legal profession.
An exclusive interview with Rachel Spearing for First 100 Years. Spearing is a barrister at Serjeant’s Inn Chambers. Previously she worked in Capital Markets in a US investment bank. In 2017 Spearing founded the Wellness for Law UK Network, an organisation providing a space to share positive practice and initiatives to improve health and wellbeing at the Bar.
Elizabeth Johnson is the first female Chartered Legal Executive to be appointed a judge.
Elizabeth was appointed as a Fee-paid Judge of the First-tier Tribunal on 25 January 2019.
An exclusive interview with Dame Elizabeth Gloster for First 100 Years, sponsored by Simmons & Simmons. Gloster is a judge of the Court of Appeal in England and Wales, and was the first female judge of the Commercial Court.
Her Honour Eleri Rees is a Welsh judge. In 2012 she was appointed the Resident Judge of Cardiff Crown Court and Recorder of Cardiff, the first woman to hold this post.
Harriet Wistrich is an English solicitor who works at Birnberg Pierce & Partners. She is also the co-founder of Justice for Women, a feminist organisation which advocates for women who have fought back against violent male partners, as well as Liberty’s Human Rights Lawyer of the Year 2014.
Her Honour Judge Khatun Sapnara is a Circuit Judge who presides over both family and criminal cases. Her appointment in 2006 as a Recorder of the Crown Court saw her become the first person of Bangladeshi origin to join the ranks of the senior judiciary. HHJ Sapnara came to the UK from Bangladesh at the age of 6, going on to study at the LSE before being called to the bar in 1990.
Dame Nicola Davies was the first Welsh female Court of Appeal Judge when she was appointed in October 2018. In 1992, Nicola became the first female Welsh QC, having been called to the bar in 1976. Throughout her judicial career she has been the first Welsh woman to hold each post.
Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal PC QC, is a lawyer and Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations. Baroness Scotland was the first black woman appointed QC in 1991. In 2016, she became the first female Secretary General of the Commonwealth of Nations, a voluntary association of 53 members states with 2.4 billion people.
An exclusive interview with Hilary Heilbron QC discussing her mother, Dame Rose Heilbron, who was the first of two female QCs, the first female Recorder, and the first woman judge to sit at the Old Bailey.
These striking red robes, recently unearthed by the Royal Courts of Justice, provide a thread connecting decades of groundbreaking women in law, from the past to the present day.
The robes began their life in 1965 when Mrs Justice Elizabeth Lane reached the historic milestone of becoming the first woman High Court judge. This was only three years after she became the first woman County Court judge.
The bright scarlet robes were made specifically for her, thus starting out their life at a truly significant moment for gender equality in the legal world. The robes are the traditional dress of High Court judges presiding over criminal cases and earn those who wear them the nickname of ‘red judges’. For the first time, a woman would be known by that name.
Following Elizabeth Lane’s retirement in 1979, the robes were passed to Margaret Booth, appointed in that year as High Court Judge. She was just the third woman to hold that title by then, despite 14 years passing since Elizabeth Lane’s appointment, and was assigned to the Family Division. Mrs Justice Booth was also known for being the first woman Bencher at Middle Temple.
Margaret Booth made good use of her expertise in family law when she stepped into the role as head of the National Family and Parenting Institute following her retirement from the bench. There, she called for changes to divorce law, particularly in relation to custody settlements over children.
After Margaret Booth’s retirement, the robes soon found their way onto the shoulders of one Mrs Justice Hale, appointed judge in the Family Division of the High Court in 1994. This made her the first High Court Judge to have her prior career in academia.
She left the High Court in 1999 in order to become the second woman Court of Appeal Judge. Following this, her groundbreaking career has led her to become the first female Law Lord and, then, the first woman on the Supreme Court. She currently sits, of course, as the first woman President of the Supreme Court.
Following Lady Hale’s departure from the High Court bench, the robes were passed on to Mrs Justice Jill Black, appointed to the court in 1999. This followed a varied career at the bar across civil and criminal practise, with an eventual specialisation in family law. Lady Black then went on to sit at the Court of Appeal before becoming the second woman on the Supreme Court, where she joined a fellow wearer of the robes, Lady Hale.
Thus, when the Supreme Court in 2018 saw its historic first female majority panel, featuring Lady Hale, Lady Black and Lady Arden, two of the three women had been wearers of these same robes.
It is therefore fitting on this, the centenary year of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, that the red robes worn by some of the most distinguished women trailblazers in the profession, from the first woman High Court judge to the first woman President of the Supreme Court, are to be presented in a display case for all to see at the Royal Courts of Justice. Do make sure you give them a visit.
Written by Ashley Van De Casteele, Project Coordinator for First 100 Years
At the heart of the legal profession is the concept of service and justice. This is encapsulated by the concept of pro bono in publico, “free for the public good,” a notion that does not exist in any other professional service.
This centuries old tradition of a lawyer acting in the interests of those without access to justice was first
institutionalised in commercial legal firms in 1997. I had the privilege of being appointed as the UK’s first full time pro bono solicitor by the partnership at Hogan Lovells (formally Lovells). The appointment was quickly replicated across the City with remarkable lawyers taking up roles as the City firms saw the need to address the access to justice gap.
For the most, the UK pro bono community is women-led, with some notable and inspirational exceptions – Paul Yates at Freshfields and Tom Dunn at Clifford Chance. The collective leadership of women in marshalling the talent and skills of their firms to secure access to justice is remarkable – and their passion to do more gives us hope in these fragile and fractured times.
– Yasmin Waljee OBE
Yasmin Waljee OBE
Senior Counsel and International Pro Bono Director, Hogan Lovells
Yasmin is an international human rights lawyer and was key to establishing a respected pro bono practice at Hogan Lovells. She founded the firm’s practice for victims of trafficking and forced labour and is currently acting for victims of sexual violence seeking accountability for ISIL foreign fighters. In her 22 years of practice as a pro bono lawyer she has succeeded in four UK policy changes including the introduction of a compensation scheme for British victims of terrorism abroad.
What will the next 100 years bring?
“Ideally groundbreaking leadership with firms willing to take on the greatest injustices which continue to exist and a challenge the rule of law: gender inequality across the Middle East; climate action to protect our fragile world; access to justice for those facing extreme income inequality; anti-corruption issues. And finally perhaps we will also see the appointment of the UK’s first Pro Bono Partner making pro bono a real legacy of St Yves.”
International Pro Bono, Ropes and Gray
After 5 years in the Clifford Chance aircraft financing team in Paris and Tokyo, Felicity was asked to set up the Clifford Chance global CSR programme, and so began her 20 year career in pro bono. She moved to White & Case in 2000 to set up their programme outside the US, following this with a 2 year stint as London director of Lawyers Without Borders, a small NGO that leverages the power of pro bono to support rule of law programming in developing countries. In 2015, she joined Ropes and Gray to develop their London and Asia pro bono programme.
“It has been a huge privilege to have been involved in the growth and acceptance of pro bono in the UK, Europe and Asia. A particular highlights has been the collaboration between firms on a collective response to the Grenfell Tower fire supporting the North Kensington Law Centre
Pro Bono Consultant, Ashurst
For a decade, Shankari Chandran was the Head of Pro Bono and Community Affairs at Allen & Overy. Appointed in 2000 to develop a global pro bono programme, she was based in London and her work spanned more than 30 offices around the world. Through the leadership of organisations such as the Law Centres Network and Reprieve, Shankari was part of coalitions that lobbied the UK government for better legal aid funding and advocated for the representation of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. She now works for Ashurst LLP, developing its law reform project which creates systemic change by improving laws that affect marginalised people.
“Whilst international law firms are still dominated by men at the partnership level, social change is largely driven by women. That’s not surprising – justice is a manifestation of respect, equality and empathy for our fellow human beings.’
Janet Legrand QC (Hon)
Former Senior Partner and Global Co-Chair of DLA Piper.
When she was appointed Queen’s Counsel Honoris Causa in 2018, the Lord Chancellor described her as a ‘pioneer in enhancing the role of women in the law, promoting social mobility, diversity and inclusion within her firm and the wider profession’.
As an Advisory Board member of New Perimeter, the firm’s global pro bono initiative, she has helped to guide the global practice’s strategic direction, supporting access to justice, social and economic development and sound legal institutions in under-served regions around the world. She has also leveraged her client relationships to develop long term projects on access to justice and economic empowerment in countries she has represented, such as Zambia and Timor-Leste.
“Pro bono is part of the glue that binds our firm together. In a perfect world, there would be no need for our pro bono practice, but as long as the need is there, I’m optimistic that our people will continue to volunteer and our practice will continue to grow in scale and impact.”
Head of Pro bono, Linklaters
Elsha has led Linklaters LLP’s pro bono practice for the past thirteen years; directing its strategy, internationalising it and taking it to scale. Recent successes include informing ASTI’s campaign for crucial changes to the law in the UK to tackle acid violence and securing successful claims for asylum in the UK by individuals fleeing persecution in their home countries due to being LGBT+. As well as her passion for social justice Elsha champions agile working, chairing her firm’s Family and Carers Network and supporting working parent initiatives.
“The strength of the pro bono sector owes a great deal to leadership by women. I’ve witnessed great evolution in the sector over time, and look forward to seeing the pace of evolution accelerate in the coming years as we capitalise on tech to innovate solutions to social challenges and injustice”.
Senior Associate and Pro Bono Manager (USA and Asia)
Over the last 12 years she has managed a commercial law firm pro bono practice whilst also engaging and collaborating with the wider legal sector through a number of initiatives designed to increase pro bono impact. Rebecca was called to the Bar in 2007 and admitted as a solicitor in 2014.
Rebecca serves on the Secretariat for the UK Collaborative Plan for Pro Bono and she partnered with Felicity Kirk on behalf of more than 30 Plan member firms to co-ordinate the provision of pro bono support from across the legal profession to & through North Kensington Law Centre in the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire.
Rebecca launched UKademy, a free annual professional development conference for law firm pro bono managers and now co-leads on the UKademy+ initiative, enabling pro bono professionals to share experience and insight throughout the year. Rebecca is the first non-US board member of the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (the global membership organisation for law firm pro bono professionals).
“Pro bono has allowed me to work with so many talented and inspiring women from all walks of the legal profession. I am incredibly fortunate to be part of a community where women are recognised and respected for their expertise and able to take on so many leadership roles. Although we are yet to see a UK firm create a pro bono partner role I know that day will arrive.”
Pro bono senior manager, Allen & Overy
Helen has led the pro bono programme at Allen & Overy since 2012. She also sits on the Pro Bono Committee of the Administrative Justice Council in the UK, and the Pro Bono Leadership Council of PILnet, the Global Network for Public Interest Law. Helen is Chair of Trustees of the Law Centres Network, the national voice of Law Centres and their clients, which strives for a just and equal society where everyone’s rights are valued and protected.
“To my mind, that is what all great female leaders have in common: humility, resilience and a commitment to creating opportunities for others. As the pro bono community continues to grow in the UK, we can draw inspiration from our clients and female colleagues across the legal profession to create a sector that is resilient and collaborative.”
Emma Rehal Wilde
Pro bono manager, Debevoise & Plimpton
Emma joined the pro bono profession in 2006, on the cusp of it becoming commonplace to see pro bono managers working in law firms across London. Emma was part of a small, women-only, team of pro bono heads that has set up the first exceptional case funding project for immigration detainees. She co-found a project that won the first ever state-funded compensation for a survivor of human trafficking. She also secured clarification on the legal position for women breastfeeding in public.
“Pro bono often provides opportunities for women lawyers to develop new skills and areas of practice. For women who feel like they can get lost in the crowd, pro bono gives them the chance to demonstrate their abilities and stand above their peers. In this way, pro bono has given women lawyers opportunities to shine and forge ahead with their careers as a result.”
The third woman judge and fifth woman QC in the country, through the eyes of her friend and fellow judge Her Honour Dawn Freedman
Perhaps the quality I most associate with Myrella is courage.
Having broken into the closed, to women, ranks of the Bar by starting her career at the Bar in her native Manchester, she followed her heart and, after marrying her beloved Mordaunt, moved to make a new start in Newcastle where he practised as a solicitor.
She didn’t need to try to emulate the men, as so many women who came after her felt they had to do. With her natural charm and formidable intellect she quickly rose to the top, all the while running her home and raising her two children within the true spirit of a “Jewish Woman of Worth”.
So respected was she by her fellows that her retirement party at Harrow was crowded with her friends and colleagues from Newcastle days, not least of whom were Lords Woolf and Taylor, at the time Master of the Rolls and Lord Chief Justice respectively, with the valedictory speech given by Lord Taylor.
As a mother, grandmother and model Judge, she was pre-eminently suited to hear the many cases arising from the Cleveland child abuse cases. Her judgements were legendary and, with their clear appraisal of the law and the facts, a privilege to read.
She gave up all the prestige she had earned, evidenced by her title as “the Queen of Newcastle” to again follow her heart to make yet another major move, this time, to London to be near her children and grandchildren.
However, it did not take long for her to become regarded as a great Judge and she was invited to sit at the Central Criminal Court. After trying it for a few sitting, she gave it up as she didn’t like the pomp and circumstance or being so far from her new home in Edgware.
Thereafter, until her retirement, I had the enormous pleasure of being her neighbour. She occupied Court and Room 5 and I Court and Room 6 at Harrow Crown Court.
She loved to joke that she and I were the only Judges who put the chicken soup (traditional Jewish Friday night fare) on the stove to cook before Court on Fridays.
It was sometimes difficult to associate the Judge who worked so assiduously to prepare her summings up, who ruled her Court with iron discipline but such charm, courtesy and kindness to witnesses and the Bar, with the grandmother whose living room was filled not with expensive pieces of art and antiques, but her young grandchildren and their toys.
It is a testament to her lack of ego that when she became Resident Judge following the retirement of HH Henry Palmer, she declined to move to the imposing Room 1, associated with the courtroom of the Resident Judge, Court 1.
Trying the most complex rape and child abuse cases, she was of course a natural with the victims, displaying empathy with them whilst always making sure defendants felt they had had a fair trial.
There was however a problem when the concept of video recorded interviews with child witnesses and evidence via CCTV came to Harrow. She refused to master its use, and her Usher who was of course devoted to her, was conscripted to do it for her.
Despite the burdens of the work and the administration involved in being Resident Judge, she found time to care for those who did not have her happy home life.
Together, we were Trustees of the Jewish Marriage Council.
Together, we drafted a prenuptial agreement for the Office of the Chief Rabbi to be signed by couples agreeing to behave in accordance with Jewish law if they divorced, which continues to be force, though technically not yet enforceable in English law.
Together, we played a role in drafting the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002 giving Judges the power to postpone Decrees Absolute until the parties had complied with their religious obligations.
In fact, after her retirement it could be said that Myrella found a second career as she could frequently be found in the corridors of the House of Lords hurriedly redrafting the Bill as it was debated in the House of Lords.
She was not just a great Judge and an inspiration to those who followed her, but she was a great human being.
By HH Dawn Freedman
About HH Dawn Freedman:
Her Honour Dawn Freedman began her legal career as a barrister before becoming the youngest person appointed as a stipendiary magistrate at the time, aged just 37. After this, she then became one of only a handful of female circuit judges and sat at Harrow Crown Court from its opening. There she developed a strong friendship with Judge Myrella Cohen QC.
Sandie Okoro is General Counsel at the World Bank. Sandie is named in The Powerlist 2019 as the fifth most influential and powerful black person in Britain.
Sylvia Denman CBE was a barrister and academic whose commitment to equal opportunities and fighting racial discrimination ensured a lasting legacy. She most notably conducted the Denman Inquiry into institutional racism in the CPS, heralding much-needed changes.
Sylvia was born in Barbados in 1932 and came to Britain to study law at the London School of Economics. She pursued a career as a barrister, being called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1962. This was particularly impressive at a time when there were so few women and, in particular, so few black women at the Bar.
Sylvia began an academic career before joining the vanguard in the fight against discrimination in the 1960s and 1970s, serving as a member of both the Race Relations Board and Equal Opportunities Board. These were newly created bodies which enforced landmark legislation against racial and gender discrimination respectively.
Sylvia held multiple others positions over time. She was a member of the ethnic minorities advisory committee at the Judicial Studies Board, now the Judicial College. In this position, she played a key role in delivering the first race relations training programme in the country for circuit judges, from 1994 to 1996.
Meanwhile, the late 1990s formed a backdrop to increasing public awareness of institutional racism and a growing mistrust in the criminal justice system, mostly as a result of the Macpherson inquiry into the killing of Stephen Lawrence. Lawyers at the CPS began successfully challenging their employer before tribunals on grounds of race discrimination. Indeed, many black and minority ethnic employees at the organisation harboured a deep mistrust in their employer. All of this led to the director of public prosecutions asking Sylvia to lead an inquiry into race discrimination at the CPS.
The outcome, the Denman Report, was published in 2000. On all accounts, Sylvia conducted her inquiry with purposeful determination and without failing to consider equally the input of staff of all levels. As a testament to her uncompromising yet fair approach, the report’s strong criticisms and findings of institutional racism were firmly accepted by the director of public prosecutions.
The inquiry’s impact was major, with the CPS adopting a slew of policies aimed at implementing its recommendations. A key part of this was intensive diversity and equality training for all staff and greater accountability across the CPS for equality of treatment in the prosecution process. This helped start the process of making it a fairer place to work and rebuilding trust in the organisation, not least in the eyes of its employees.
To those that knew her, Sylvia was a person who did not suffer fools gladly but who always took the time to understand where people were coming from. Anny Tubbs, herself a lawyer and a former Chief Business Integrity Officer at Unilever, was both a personal friend of Sylvia’s and someone who looked up to her:
Sylvia was a family friend and the only lawyer I knew when I started down that route myself. She took me under her wing, nudging and nurturing me in equal measure. I used to joke that the reason I had many traineeship offers from law firms was because breakfast with her at the time had been more terrifying than any interview. She was very private about her work, but her sharp intellect and keen interest in others were apparent in all she did. She worked closely with equally engaged peers and leaves an important legacy for others to build on. She was a quiet yet determined trailblazer who deserves to be celebrated.
Even for those that didn’t know her personally, Sylvia will be remembered as a role model for channeling her deeply-held personal values into work that made huge strides in the battle against gender and racial discrimination in the UK.
Sylvia received a CBE for services to race relations and equal opportunities in 1994. She passed away in May 2019 at the age of 86.
Greatest Career Achievements:
As one of only twenty listed in the Law category in The Sunday Times “Britain’s 500 Most Influential”, Penelope has not just led the way for CMS – she has led the way for the legal market. As the Law Society Gazette reported “Few women solicitors have smashed the “glass ceiling” into as many shards as Penelope Warne”.
Penelope trained and qualified as a solicitor with Slaughter & May where she spent five years. A move to Scotland saw her additionally qualify as a Scottish lawyer and turn her focus to the oil and gas industry. She initially set up her own firm and joined CMS in 1993, establishing the firm’s Aberdeen office and becoming the first female oil and gas lawyer in Scotland. Over the course of Penelope’s career, she has been instrumental in CMS’ global growth, spearheading the opening of new offices across Scotland, Middle East, Asia and Latin America. In 2013, she became The Senior Partner of CMS, one of the first female leaders of a global law firm.
She is an Honorary Fellow and Trustee of the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy at Dundee University. A member of the Foundation Board at IMD, the highly acclaimed international business school based in Lausanne Switzerland. She is also a member of the Board of the Law Society for England and Wales and a member of the Oxford University Vice Chancellor’s Circle.
Penelope has received many industry awards including The Lawyer’s Hot 100, “Senior Management Partner of the Year” at the British Legal Awards and most recently the UK Legal 500 Award for Outstanding Achievement. These awards are the product of extensive research and client recommendation. They are a testament to Penelope’s wider industry recognition for building a top quality oil and gas practice, a leading firm in Scotland, a new powerhouse firm in London and globally as well as her role as a great influencer of culture, diversity and women’s careers.
Penelope has had a successful and inspiring career – heading up the firm’s leading Energy practice and driving the firm’s international growth. Throughout her career, she has worked at the cutting edge of oil and gas issues; working with clients on ground-breaking transactions, pioneering on important thought leadership work across the sector including debating the future of energy with industry leaders at Davos, and partnering with governments, economists and leading universities across the globe.
Penelope’s vision to build a market-leading presence in Scotland resulted in her leading the successful merger with Scotland’s top firm Dundas & Wilson in 2013.
Three years later came a transformational moment for the UK legal market. Led by Penelope, CMS completed the largest merger in the history of the UK legal market, combining with Nabarro and Olswang to become the 6th largest firm in the UK and one of the top 6 globally. The merger was also transformational for the firm, providing significant scale to invest in technology and expand the global platform to become a progressive, modern, future-facing law firm – recognised in the last year as Law Firm of the Year by the British Legal Awards.
It has always been Penelope’s vision to build a successful dynamic firm, with a supportive culture where the careers of all can thrive. At CMS, she has developed and championed standout CSR and D&I initiatives which have truly influenced the world of law. Penelope has been instrumental in the firm implementing many policies and procedures to promote diversity including an enhanced maternity and shared parental leave programme as well as a new scheme “Time Out”, that allows employees to take up to four weeks’ unpaid leave each year.
What are some of the challenges for the future, challenges for women and the wider legal industry?
Looking ahead in a changing market, Penelope says law firms have to prioritise their culture, know their vision and purpose and remain agile and adapt. Further, it is important to embrace technology, not only in the way lawyers work, but also using it effectively in the way firms deliver services to clients. CMS was one of the first firms to move to a collaborative open plan office using technology.
On the challenges facing women in the legal profession, Penelope believes we must support gender diversity at all levels both junior and senior, have visible role models and follow through on policies. It is not just about advancing women in senior roles; it is important to foster millennials through developing a flexible mindset and supportive culture which embraces mentoring and agile working and eliminates unconscious bias.
She adds: “We must work together in the legal industry to tackle this issue. As a proud advocate of women in business, and with 30% women on our board and in our partnership, we regularly work with clients and other organisations, schools and universities to share experiences of best practice. In this way, we can help change perspectives in our communities and throughout society. Our clients value the work we do and it gives us a very different relationship with them. We have worked together with many clients on their D&I strategy, with a special focus on LGBT, Gender and Ethnicity. We benefit from their programmes and we share ours with them.”
Finally, Penelope emphasises that her enthusiasm for a challenge, her inspiration and zest for life is boosted by three very special people: Anthony to whom she has been married for 30 years and her two children William and Sarah.
Jessie Chrystal Macmillan was a Scottish feminist, barrister and politician. She was the first female science graduate from the University of Edinburgh, the first woman to plead a case before the House of Lords and a founder of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Born in 1872, Chrystal grew up in Edinburgh alongside her eight brothers. Their father was a tea merchant. After attending boarding school in St Andrews she enrolled at Edinburgh University in October 1892, becoming one of the first female students in Scotland. When Chrystal graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in April 1896 she was the first woman at Edinburgh to do so.
After spending some time studying in Berlin, she returned to Edinburgh University, studying in the Faculty of Arts and graduating with an MA in April 1900. She was the first woman to graduate with first class honours in mathematics and natural philosophy in April 1900, and also earned second-class honours in moral philosophy and logic.
At university, Chrystal became involved in student politics, chairing the Women’s Representative Committee and lobbying the Scottish University authorities on gender parity for scholarships. She was also Vice President of the Women’s Debating Society and active in the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). Aside from politics, she was the second woman member of the Edinburgh Mathematical Society.
Chrystal was the first woman to plead a case before the House of Lords in 1908. As a graduate, she was a member of the General Council of Edinburgh University but was unable to vote for the MP who would represent the university’s seat in 1906. Chrystal argued that the use of the word “persons” in the General Council’s voting statues did not exclude women as female graduates are persons. The case was lost before the University Courts but Scottish suffragists raised £1000 for the case to be heard in the House of Lords.
When Chrystal arrived at the House of Lords, arrangements to prevent women from entering had to be suspended (they had been instigated due to the activities of militant suffragettes). She spoke for three-quarters of an hour and was portrayed very positively in the press as a “modern Portia” with an “admirable speaking voice” and “complete self-possession”. The case was rejected, but the press was highly supportive of the plight of these educated women and it generated worldwide publicity for the suffragist cause.
In the suffragist newspaper The Vote, Chrystal wrote in 1909:
I want the vote for women because they are different from men, different in the external accident of life and in much of the work they have to do. To be just, a Government should represent such differences. And I want the vote for women because they are the same as men, the same in those fundamental human qualities in virtue of which a share in self-government is given to men. Both are moral beings.
Chrystal moved to London and 1911 she attended the sixth congress of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance (IWSA) in Stockholm. Collaborating with European women to document women’s voting rights around the world, they produced a book,Woman Suffrage in Practice, in 1913. Chrystal acted as the IWSA vice-president from 1913 to 1923.
During the First World War, British suffragists were divided between patriots and pacifists. Chrystal was a pacifist campaigner, spending time providing food for refugees and working to find peaceful resolutions to the war. Chrystal helped to organise the International Congress of Women in The Hague in 1915, which consisted of 1,150 women from North America and Europe discussing how to halt the war. Although 180 British women planned to attend the Congress, many were left unable to travel after Winston Churchill cancelled British ferry services. However, Chrystal attended the conference along with two other British women and was selected as a committee member. She championed the Congress’ proposals to heads of neutral states including President Woodrow Wilson, and some of their proposals were incorporated into Wilson’s Fourteen Points.
Chrystal was a delegate at the International Congress of Women in Zurich, which criticised the Treaty of Versailles. Along with other feminists, she took their resolutions to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference and advocated for the establishment of the League of Nations. Chrystal unsuccessfully lobbied for the separation of women’s nationality from their husband’s, and the women were mostly ignored at the Conference. The UN eventually changed the law on nationality in 1957, in part thanks to Chrystal’s tireless campaigning.
Following the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, Chrystal applied to become a student of Middle Temple, believing that becoming a lawyer would be the most effective way to continue to campaign. Alongside her studies, she co-founded the Open Door Council which campaigned to repeal the legal restrictions on women and give women equal opportunity in the workplace.
Called to the Bar in 1924, she joined the Western Circuit in 1926 and became the second woman to be elected to its Bar Mess. She acted as counsel for the defence in six cases on the Western Circuit and continued to practise in the North London Session courts until 1936. From 1929 she also appeared at the Central Criminal Court in five cases for the prosecution and one for the defence.
Chrystal’s friend, the writer Cicely Hamilton wrote that she was:
The right kind of lawyer, one who held that Law should be synonymous with Justice … Her chief aim in life – one might call it her passion – was to give every woman of every class and nation the essential protection of justice. She was, herself, a great and very just human being … She could not budge an inch on matters of principle but she never lost her temper and never bore a grudge in defeat.
In 1929 Chrystal co-founded the Open Door International for the Economic Emancipation of the Woman Worker and remained president until her death. She also worked to end sex trafficking and campaigned for the civil rights of prostitutes, opposing state regulation of prostitution.
In 1935, she stood for election as a Liberal in Edinburgh North but received less than 6% of the votes. In May 1937, she wrote an article for the International Woman Suffrage News on the necessity of being impatient with regards to women’s rights. “Women like to think of men as their equals not their inferiors, so in this case the exercise of patience is not called for when men are behaving badly, disregarding justice and exhibiting a very unfounded sense of superiority”, she wrote.
In September 1937, Chrystal died of heart disease. In her obituary in The Scotsman, Chrystal is remembered:
Miss Macmillan directed her whole energies to the important questions of securing women’s statutory, social, and economic equality with men… she demanded one law for men and women and fought out-of-date legislation and proposals. Women will never know how much they owe to her dogged persistence in fighting their cause.
A building at Edinburgh University is named after Chrystal, and the Middle Temple continues to award a Chrystal Macmillan Prize to an outstanding female law student.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
In 1987, Anne Willmott, a trained counsellor, was recruited by a forward-thinking Chief Fire Officer to set up a professional Counselling and Advice service for the London Fire Brigade. In a conversation with First 100 Years, she discusses the obstacles she came up against, working in a male-dominated environment, and what needs to change in our work culture.
Teamwork was the foundation of the macho culture in the 1980s, and firefighters had to show tough exteriors at all times, believing that to show feelings of any kind would imply weakness. They knew that, regardless of problems at home or at work, they had to be seen to be strong.
Anne says she soon became aware of the high levels of sickness absence and was determined that the new service, which aimed “to keep people at work in times of difficulty” could make a cost-effective contribution to overall efficiency.
As Anne began the slow process of developing relationships, building bridges and earning trust, it was important to acknowledge the many expressions of hostility and wariness; she was told “we managed all these years without someone like you.” True. Anne believes that respecting the tradition of firefighters coping in their own way, was vital. Gradually though, she was able to help groups and individuals, recognise that there could be a price to pay later for “managing” so well. Suppressed feelings – rage, sadness, loss, helplessness – can result in unrecognised depression, relationship problems at home and work, as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which at that time was almost unheard of.
A few months after the service was set up, the King’s Cross Underground Fire killed 31 people, including a Senior Fire Officer. Whilst being a hugely traumatic event for the Fire Service, Anne says it provided an opportunity for the first time, to meet every firefighter involved to talk through the incident with the aim of preventing the onset of PTSD. Following this major disaster, she then set up a protocol for debriefing after all serious incidents, in order to process feelings at the time rather than burying them and possibly causing later problems.
Anne remembers when women first joined the Fire Service. There was enormous resistance and suspicion from may in the male workforce. Female firefighters had to struggle to prove themselves and be accepted. But the Fire Service management put great emphasis on Equality Policies and this played a key part in the profound and lasting culture change which followed.
Over time, the presence of female firefighters has had a huge and positive impact on the workforce and its public perception and image. They have provided role models for young women from a wide variety of backgrounds and The London Fire Service now proudly has its first female Commissioner, Dany Cotton.
In many areas, such as finance and law challenges remain, with ongoing debate about how to make these male-dominated environments more welcoming to women. In some areas of the legal profession, work culture still needs to change in order to improve mental and physical well-being, as well as diversity.
Anne herself remembers her fifteen years in engineering and how she was gradually side-lined and given less prestigious work following the birth of her daughter. She believes the Fire Service has shown what can be achieved when an organisation commits itself to positive change.
Interviewed by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
Averil Katherine Statter Deverell was one of the first women, along with Frances Kyle, to be admitted to the bar in Ireland on November 1st 1921. It was almost a year later before Ivy Williams became the first woman to be called to the English Bar.
Little is known about Deverell’s life. Born in Dublin on the 2nd January 1893, her parents were William Deverell and Ada Catherine Slatter Deverell. She had a twin brother, William Berenger Statter Deverell. She attended the French School, Bray, Co. Wicklow from 1905 to 1909, and appeared in many of their dramatic productions. She continued to act when she attended Trinity College and was involved in the Dublin University Dramatic Society. Her scrapbook from this time includes a programme from a suffragette play. Averil was presented at Court to King George V and Queen Mary on the 8th July 1911.
Deverell was among the first female graduates from Trinity College, Dublin, and was awarded a law degree in 1915. She served as an ambulance driver in France and Flanders in 1918. In January 1920, she became a student at King’s Inns along with Frances Kyle, following the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. Averil was called to the Bar on the same day as her brother, William.
Two years after this, Mary Dorothea Heron became the first woman admitted as a solicitor in Ireland, although she never took out a practising certificate.
In 1928, The Londonderry Sentinel reported that Averil became the first Irish woman barrister to appear before the Privy Council in London. She was also the first woman to appear in the Supreme Court of Ireland and the Court of Criminal Appeal in Ireland. Alongside her work at the bar, she was a keen breeder of cairn terriers, naming her home “The Brehon Kennel”.
Averil remained in practice until she retired in 1969. She died on the 11th February 1979, aged 86. A portrait of her hangs in the Law Library of Ireland, and a lectureship in the Law School of Trinity College is named after her.
Photographs © British Newspaper Archive
J. Harford & C. Rush, Have Women Made a Difference? Women in Irish Universities, 1950 – 2010 , Peter Lang Publishers, 2010
‘Lady of the Law’, Dublin Evening Telegraph , 29 January 1920, p.2
‘Ladies Apply for Admission as Law Students’, Dublin Evening Telegraph , 22 January 1920, p.2
‘Belfast’s Woman Barrister at Work’, The Vote , 3 March 1922, p.70
‘Ireland’s Great Dog Show’, Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News , 31 March 1954 p.312-313
‘The Law’s Delay Prevents Coloured Woman Barrister’s Appearance’ Northern Whig , 25 July, 1928, p.12
‘University Intelligence, Trinity College Dublin’, The Belfast News-Letter, 8 November, 1911, p.2
‘Lady Law Students’, Weekly Freeman’s Journal , 24 January 1920, p.5
‘University Intelligence, Trinity College Dublin’, Dublin Daily Express – 09 May 1911
‘Transferred Civil Servants. Free State Claim Before Privy Council’, Londonderry Sentinel, 26 July 1928, p.8
Frances Kyle was one of the first women, along with Averil Deverell, to be admitted to the bar in Ireland on November 1st, 1921. They were among the first women to be called to the bar anywhere in the world. It was almost a year later before Ivy Williams became the first woman to be called to the English Bar.
Little is known about Frances’ life. Born on the 30th October 1893 to Kathleen Frances Bates and Robert Alexander Kyle, her parents had married in New York, before moving back to Belfast. Her father was the son of Mr G. W. Kyle who had founded G.W. Kyle, drapers, outfitters, &c., which was a well-known business in Belfast. Robert inherited the business upon his father’s death. He was also an enthusiastic yachtsman, a member of the Belfast Natural History and Philosophical Society, and a microscopist with “the finest collection of microscopes in Ulster”, according to his obituary in The Northern Whig and Belfast Post. Robert is described as “a man of benevolent disposition, and all philanthropic and social welfare work found in him a generous supporter.” Frances had a sister, Kathleen, who married a medical inspector, Dr. John McCloy. In 1930 Kathleen was described by the Belfast Newsletter as “very well known in Belfast” and “a delightful speaker”.
Frances received a BA in French from Trinity College Dublin in 1914, and an LLB in 1916. In January 1920, Frances and Averil were admitted as the first female students of law at King’s Inns, Dublin. Frances came first in the Bar Entrance Examinations and was the first woman to win the John Brooke Scholarship. The Irish Times described this as “a women’s invasion of the law.”
When Frances and Averil were called to the Bar on the 1st November 1921, they were part of the first cohort of people to be called since the Irish Judiciary became independent from England. Averil became the first woman to practise at the bar anywhere in the world. Two years after this, Mary Dorothea Heron became the first woman admitted as a solicitor in Ireland, although she never took out a practising certificate.
In 1922, Frances was elected a member of the circuit of Northern Ireland at a meeting in Belfast, becoming the first female member of a circuit. Frances is reported in the Dublin Evening Telegraph in 1922 as having received eight briefs. She told a Daily Mail representative:
“I’m not at all certain that the first women barristers will succeed in making a living at the Bar. Legal friends advised me to devote myself to conveyancing, which does not require attendance at the courts, but I felt that the first woman barrister should practise, if possible, to prepare the way for those who will follow.”
Frances’ mother died in 1930 aged 63, and her father died in 1931 aged 82. Frances seemed to have struggled to find work, and her last listing in Thoms Law Directory is in 1931. In 1937, she appeared in court to defend herself on a parking summons. By 1952, Frances was living in London with her sister Kathleen. She died on the 12th February 1958, aged 64.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
Georgina “Georgie” Frost was the first woman to hold public office in the UK and Ireland.
Born on the 29th December 1879 in Sixmilebridge, County Clare, Georgie was one of five children. Her father was the petty sessions clerk of Sixmilebridge and Newmarket-on-Fergus. Before that, Georgie’s grandfather John Kett had also acted as petty sessions clerk, so the job was something of a family tradition.
Between 1909 and 1915, Georgie helped her father in his duties and sometimes performed them herself, becoming well-known in the area during this process. When Thomas Frost retired, the local magistrates elected Georgie to succeed him. However, at this time all appointments had to be approved by the Lord Lieutenant who rejected the appointment, arguing “a woman by virtue of her sex is disqualified from being appointed or acting as Clerk of Petty Sessions.”
Undeterred by this, the magistrates granted Georgie a temporary year-long contract, in order to give her time to fight her case. However, she was again rejected by the Lord Lieutenant. Represented by Tim Healy KC and James Comyn KC, Georgie brought the case to the chancery division in Dublin under the ‘petition of right’ procedure. However, in echoes of the infamous Bebb v The Law Society case, Mr Justice Dunbar Barton dismissed her claim saying that it was a matter for parliament, referring to the Statutes governing the Office of Clerk of Petty Sessions, and arguing that there had never been a woman Clerk of Petty Sessions.
The reason of the modern decisions disqualifying women from public offices has not been inferiority of intellect or discretion, which few people would now have the hardihood to allege. It has been rather rested upon considerations of decorum, and upon the unfitness of certain painful and exacting duties in relation to the finer qualities of women.
Georgie did not give up, taking her claim to the court of appeal in November 1917, before Lord Shandon, Lord Chief Justice Molony and Lord Justice Stephen Ronan. By the time judgement was delivered in December 1918, Lord Shandon had resigned, although he left a letter instructing that the appeal should be granted because no statues or principles of common law disallowed a woman being appointed. Despite this, the other judges upheld the decision that Georgie was excluded from public office, arguing that it was a rule of common law women could not be appointed to public office.
Georgie brought the case to the House of Lords in forma pauperis because there had been a dissent in the Irish court of appeal. This meant that if she was unsuccessful she would not be required to pay the costs. By the time the case was listed for hearing on the 27th April 1920, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 had passed, which removed any legal bars to women being appointed public office. Retrospective approval was therefore granted to Georgie, who was appointed in April 1920, making her the first woman to hold public office in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland after a lengthy fight which had spanned several years.
During the Irish Civil War, Georgie retained the position and was held at gunpoint by the IRA, and the petty sessions court house from which she worked was destroyed. However, her career proved to be short-lived, when in 1923 the Irish Free State abolished her job.
Georgie died on the 6th December 1939, aged just 59.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
Margaret Owen OBE is a human rights barrister specialising in women’s rights. In an interview with First 100 Years, she discusses her varied career, founding the charity Widows for Peace Through Democracy, and her advice for young female lawyers today.
Margaret was born in 1932, the daughter of a solicitor and a doctor. She remembers her father as “a very good solicitor. We didn’t talk about human rights in those days, but that’s really what he was doing.” Her family on her mother’s side had come to England to escape pogroms in Lithuania. Despite her disadvantaged background, Margaret’s mother secured a scholarship to Cambridge and later became a doctor. She also helped to set up the National Marriage Guidance Council.
Margaret grew up in London but was evacuated during the war to the countryside, after a near miss with a German U-boat. “We were all about to go to America, but my elder brother said to his headmaster ‘Sir, I can’t leave my country when it’s at war’, so my mother cancelled the ship we were to go on. The ship was torpedoed, so the only reason I’m here now is because we didn’t get on that ship.”
Initially, Margaret wanted to become an actress. “I acted a great deal at school, but when I got to Cambridge I read law, because I saw myself as a sort of Portia, dispensing justice and the quality of mercy. I went up to Girton College in 1950, and there were only two women in the whole year reading Law at the time. There were no women law dons so all our supervisions were at other colleges.” Whilst at Cambridge, she continued to act alongside directors Peter Hall and John Barton, as well as Dadie (George) Rylands, the King’s Fellow and Shakespeare scholar, playing parts including Gertrude in Hamlet and Goneril in King Lear. “Maybe there’s something about advocacy and theatre which go together.”
After leaving Cambridge, she studied for the Bar, and completed her pupillage at 4 Paper Buildings in 1954, in the same chambers as Quintin Hogg, who received briefs from Margaret’s father. Her pupilmaster was Maurice Drake, who went on to become a High Court Judge. Margaret describes the atmosphere in chambers as “extremely difficult” for female barristers. “There were boys in the chambers who were going to get all the best work”, she recalls. “They were probably in their early forties, because the war meant that a lot of men had gone into the army, the navy and the air force. Then they came back, and they were already quite a lot older than us, so that made it extremely difficult for us to get briefs.”
Disillusioned, Margaret left the Bar for a time and got a job at the advertising agency J Walter Thompson when commercial television was in its infancy. “Lots of my friends were in advertising and everything seemed quite exciting, and I completely forgot I was a lawyer”, she recalls. In 1956 she moved to Granada Television, working on documentaries.
After marrying, Margaret started a degree in anthropology at Manchester under Max Gluckman. “I was always interested in how law impacted people, and how people, particularly the most vulnerable, could have a role in actually developing the law, implementing the law or monitoring its effects”, she explains. However, when her husband got a Chair at Imperial College they moved back to London and she completed a diploma in social administration at LSE in 1968, getting the only distinction of the year. Alongside her studies, she was also looking after their four children aged 1, 3, 5 and 7.
After she graduated, Margaret sat on a committee for the coordination of the welfare of Ugandan Asians after Idi Amin ordered their expulsion, and she travelled to India to write a report called ‘Stranded in India’ about the Ugandan Asians who were stranded in India. Later, she became senior counsel for the UK Immigrants Advisory Service as an immigration and asylum lawyer, travelling around the world and working on a diversity of cases, including Vietnam War draft avoiders in the US and Bangladeshi family reunion cases. When she left UKIAS, Margaret became head of law and policy at the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the umbrella organisation for all the family planning associations. This involved travelling around the world to work on women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, and the status of women generally.
In 1990, Margaret’s husband died. At the time she was teaching judicial administration to commonwealth magistrates and a Malawian magistrate asked Margaret to help a sick baby from Malawi. Margaret invited the baby and its mother to stay with her whilst the baby received treatment. Arriving at Margaret’s house, the mother said to her “You mean your husband’s brothers let you stay here and keep all these things?” This question prompted Margaret to research widow’s rights, and she discovered that there was no international organisation for widows.
Margaret went on to found Widows for Peace Through Democracy, a charity with ECOSOC status which campaigns for the rights of widows. “I was conscious of how many women are bereaved because of conflict, and how many women are wives of the missing or the disappeared. We need to have widows’ voices at peace accords.” While there have been improvements, she is concerned about the gap between the laws countries pass, and their implementation on the ground. “There’s a huge gap between the cup and the lip, these laws are not implemented, particularly in rural areas.”
In 2000, the UN passed Security Council Resolution 1325 which calls for a consideration of the needs of women and girls during conflict and requires parties in a conflict to prevent violations of women’s rights and to support women’s participation in peace negotiations. In response, Margaret helped to set up Gender Action for Peace and Security UK (GAPS-UK), which promotes and facilitates the meaningful inclusion of gender in the UK’s peace and security policies.
Margaret is also a Patron of Peace in Kurdistan and is passionate about promoting the rights of the Kurdish people who are one of the largest stateless groups in the world. She has visited the autonomous region of the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS), known for its gender equality and democratic socialism, and she believes we can learn a lot from them. “There’s an incredible society there, every institutional organisation must have male and female co-chairs, even the army. They’ve done so much to reduce violence against women, it’s an incredible model.” She is also very concerned with the political situation in Turkey. Currently, over 70,000 university students are imprisoned in Turkey, and more professional journalists are detained there than any other country in the world. Margaret and regularly travels there to monitor trials and elections.
Margaret thinks to be a successful lawyer, you have to have “a passion for the truth, and a clarity of vision”, as well as powers of concentration. Does she think that the working environment has improved for female lawyers today? “In some ways it’s got better for women in law, but in other ways it is not. We may have more women in the Supreme Court now but compared to other countries we still have a low percentage of women in the judiciary. The UK also has the highest childcare costs in the whole of Europe, so it’s still difficult in terms of career gaps to get to the highest pinnacles of the profession along with men.” She’s also concerned about social mobility. “My grandchildren are paying a bomb to go to university, and so many internships are in London. How can people from disadvantaged families afford to do them?”
Her advice to young female lawyers is:
Just keep at it, and if you see any sort of prejudice or obstacle or unfairness in the way you are being treated, recruited or promoted, make a fuss. Speak out. Don’t let these things happen anymore. Don’t join the boy’s network, if you’re going to have a network make sure it’s really comprehensive and covers everybody irrespective or religion, ethnicity or class. Look after the other women around you, the women below you, and be sure you bring other women up with you.
Margaret is now a Door Tenant of 9 Bedford Row and she regularly writes for their international law blog. Aged 86, she is still passionate about speaking up about injustices, both at home and abroad. “I’m very glad to be a lawyer”, she says, “it is with my legal hat on that I feel I can wield some authority.”
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
The ‘rebel Countess’ Constance Markievicz née Gore-Booth was an Irish revolutionary, founding member of the Irish Citizen Army, suffragette and the first woman elected to the British House of Commons on the 28th December 1918, although she did not take her seat. She was also one of the first women in the world to hold a cabinet position as Minister for Labour of the first Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament) in 1919. Ireland had to wait until 1979 for its second female cabinet minister.
Born in 1868 in London, Constance was the eldest daughter of Lady Georgina Gore-Booth and Sir Henry Gore-Booth, an Anglo-Irish landlord and Arctic explorer. The family lived at Lissadell estate in Co. Sligo, Ireland. She had a privileged childhood, educated by a governess and enjoying hunting and riding. In 1887, she was presented at court to Queen Victoria in her Jubilee year. However, the famine of 1879-1880 greatly coloured Constance’s views and left her with a great concern for the welfare of the poor. Her father provided free food for his tenants at Lissadell House, which inspired Constance and her sister, Eva. She also became interested in women’s suffrage as a young woman, presiding over a meeting of the Sligo Women’s Suffrage Society in 1896.
Constance trained as a painter at Slade School of Art in London, before continuing her studies in Paris at the Academie Julian. There, she met her future husband Casimir Markievicz, an artist from a wealthy Polish family. He was known as ‘Count Markievicz’, although there was some question over the validity of his title.
Constance and Casimir married in 1900, and in 1901 she gave birth to a daughter, Maeve, who was raised by the Gore-Booth grandparents at Lissadell. In 1903, Constance and Casimir moved to Dublin and began participating in its artistic scene which was going through something of a renaissance. They helped to found the United Arts Club in 1905. Although ostensibly apolitical, the club included many Irish nationalists including Douglas Hyde, who would go on to become the first President of Ireland.
Through their artistic connections, Constance met revolutionaries including Maud Gonne, and her politics underwent gradual radicalisation. By 1908, she was active in nationalist politics and had joined Sinn Féin and Inghinidhe na hÉireann (‘Daughters of Ireland’), a revolutionary women’s movement founded by Maud Gonne. She also helped to found Bean na hÉireann (‘Women of Ireland’), Ireland’s first women’s nationalist journal. Constance and Maud also performed several plays at the Abbey Theatre, which highlights the relationship between Dublin’s flourishing cultural scene and burgeoning Irish nationalism.
In 1909, Constance co-founded Fianna Éireann (‘The Fianna of Ireland’), an Irish nationalist paramilitary youth organisation which trained teenage boys to use firearms, in preparation for a war of Irish independence. At its first meeting, she was almost expelled from the organisation for being a woman, but her co-founder Bulmer Hobson ensured she remained and she was elected to the committee.
In 1911, Constance was arrested for the first time for speaking at an Irish Republican Brotherhood demonstration which was protesting George V’s visit to Ireland. She handed out leaflets, threw stones at pictures on the King and Queen and attempted to burn the British flag. This only spurred her on, and she joined the socialist Irish Citizen Army (ICA), a volunteer force aimed at defending demonstrating workers from the police. She also designed their uniform and composed their anthem.
During the Dublin lock-out of 1913, an industrial dispute involving over 20,000 workers, Constance sold her jewellery in order to help pay for food to be distributed to the workers’ families. She also ran a soup kitchen for poor children. By this time, Casimir had moved back to Ukraine to become a war correspondent in the Balkans, although the separation was amicable and they continued to correspond.
When the First World War broke out in 1914, she was opposed to Irish involvement and co-founded the Irish Neutrality League. In the Easter Rising of 1916, Constance participated as part of the Irish Citizen Army. She was second-in-command of a troop at St Stephen’s Green, where according to one account, she shot a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police who later died of his injuries, although this account is disputed. Her garrison held out for six days. During the surrender, Constance allegedly kissed her revolver before handing it to a British officer.
The rebels were taken to Dublin Castle and Constance was transported to Kilmainham Gaol. There, she was the only woman prisoner who was put in solitary confinement out of 70. From her cell, she could hear the firing squads executing other revolutionaries. She was the only woman to be court-martialed. During her court-martial on the 4th May 1916, she told the court “I went out to fight for Ireland’s freedom and it does not matter what happens to me. I did what I thought was right and I stand by it.” She was sentenced to death, but it was commuted to life imprisonment “solely and only on account of her sex”. When she heard she said, “I do wish your lot had the decency to shoot me.”
Constance was released from prison in 1917 after serving 13 months due to the British government granting a general amnesty for those who participated in the Easter Rising. Upon her release, she converted to Catholicism. However, she was jailed again in 1918 for anti-conscription activities.
While she was in Holloway Prison, Constance was elected for the constituency of Dublin St Patrick’s in the 1918 general election, with 66% of the vote. She was the first woman to be elected to parliament. However, along with the other 72 Sinn Féin MPs, she did not take up her seat because it involved swearing an oath of allegiance to the King.
Dr Mari Takayanagi, Senior Archivist at the Parliamentary Archives argues that Constance may not have been allowed to take up her seat in Parliament even if she had tried, because she was married to a Polish man and women took their husband’s nationality until 1948. She had also previously been found guilty of treason, which would have disqualified her. Despite this, her election wasn’t challenged, and her name is recorded in the Parliamentary Paper as an MP.
The Irish republicans set up their own provisional government, the Dáil Éireann, and Constance served as Minister for Labour from April 1919 to January 1922. She was the first Irish female Cabinet Minister. Constance remained a supporter of women’s rights; in March 1922 she delivered a speech in the Dáil in support of extending the electoral franchise on equal terms, saying “there has been less physical restraint on the actions of women in Ireland than in any other country, but mentally the restrictions seem to me to be very oppressive.”
Constance left the government in 1922 in protest of the Anglo-Irish treaty which she regarded as a betrayal. She completed a speaking tour of America and continued to campaign for the Republican cause. Her revolutionary views resulted in her being jailed again several times.
In 1926 she joined the new Fianna Fáil party and chaired its inaugural meeting. She was re-elected in 1927 but died in a public hospital ward before she could take her seat, of complications related to appendicitis. At her funeral, thousands lined the streets of Dublin to pay their respects.
Constance and her sister Eva were childhood friends with W. B Yeats, who wrote this poem “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz” about them:
The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
But a raving autumn shears
Blossom from the summer’s wreath;
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams –
Some vague Utopia – and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Many a time I think to seek
One or the other out and speak
Of that old Georgian mansion, mix
Pictures of the mind, recall
That table and the talk of youth,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
Dear shadows, now you know it all,
All the folly of a fight
With a common wrong or right.
The innocent and the beautiful
Have no enemy but time;
Arise and bid me strike a match
And strike another till time catch;
Should the conflagration climb,
Run till all the sages know.
We the great gazebo built,
They convicted us of guilt;
Bid me strike a match and blow.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
Deirdre Trapp is an award-winning antitrust practitioner and partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer. In an exclusive interview with First 100 Years, she discusses her route to success, improving the work/life balance, and the advice she gives to young female lawyers.
The daughter of Irish immigrants, Deirdre’s mother was a nurse and her father was in the RAF, which resulted in a peripatetic childhood. They eventually settled in West London in “a bit of an Irish Catholic enclave”. She went to Catholic state school and became the first person in her family to go to university, and the first person in living memory from her school to go to Oxford. Deirdre attributes this success in part to her immigrant parents, who set “a high store by education”, and the aspirations of her brother’s school, which made Oxbridge seem more obtainable. She studied PPE, saying that although she had “toyed with the law” in her teens, it was difficult to envisage a career in the law.
She is still concerned about the accessibility of law to children from working-class backgrounds. “If you come from a working-class background, it’s hard to imagine how you would start a legal career, it seems very risky. If you’re lucky enough to get a training contract with a big firm or barrister set they’ll at least pay you something but it’s still costly to live in London without parental resources to fall back on. Young people emerge from education with colossal debt these days just to get started in the legal profession. That means you’ve got to be really committed to some vision of yourself working in the law, you need to feel quite strongly about it. If you can’t access it at the beginning, as a sixteen-year-old, when you’re beginning to form your impressions, you will never have that vision of yourself.”
Deirdre was destined for a career at the Treasury until she met her husband and married aged just 21. “It was impulsive, but I’m still married to him and he’s been an absolute rock always. So sometimes you just have to trust your instincts and jump in with both feet.” They moved to Birmingham, and Deirdre considered the law again. After doing a law conversion, she completed her articles of clerkship at a small firm in London. “It was all very eye-opening… if you’re a trainee in a small firm you definitely learn a lot of good skills, because there’s no safety net, so you just have to stand on your own two feet. You also have to be economically responsible because in small firms every single fee earner is really making a difference, so you do learn a lot about self-reliance.”
By the time Deirdre finished her training, it was the mid-eighties, and there was a lot of demand from the larger firms for people. She was persuaded to join Freshfields in 1987 and has worked there ever since. She was made a partner in 1995, when she was eight years qualified, the year after her second child was born. She was the first woman in the history of the firm to be made a partner who had already had two children. Previous female partners tended to have no children or had waited until they had established themselves as a partner, but Deirdre knew that wasn’t for her. “I wanted to test whether I could actually work at a high level and have children at home, whether that would be feasible.”
Improving the work/life balance remains an important topic for her. “I don’t think anybody should hold back family life for work, it’s a question of getting a better balance… I was very lucky that the partner I worked for himself had four children and was very family minded, he gave me a lot of room for manoeuvre when the children were small; he was not at all a presenteeism type.”
Over her career, she has witnessed a sea-change in the way the issue is approached. She explains that when she started, the expression work/life balance hadn’t even been invented, and nobody was attempting to understand the issue. “The whole debate about work/life balance and diversity is now utterly mainstream. The transformation over my career has been absolutely extraordinary, where we’ve got ourselves to the point where we’re discussing unconscious bias – when I first started the bias was conscious.” There have been other encouraging signs, including people taking longer parental leave, and both parents adjusting their working hours to share childcare responsibilities. But she says there is still a long way to go while the burden of childcare still falls disproportionately on women.
Does Deirdre think her own career would have been different if she had been a man? Perhaps if she’d taken a more transactional route, but she believes that women tend to do well in specialist areas such as antitrust. “Clients come to you for your expertise and experience, so I suspect it may be a little bit easier to shine as a woman in a specialist area.” If she hadn’t been a lawyer, she suspects she’d have gone into public policy, but she thinks she’d also enjoy being a garden designer.
Deirdre was the first person to succeed in judicially reviewing a market investigation decision by the Competition Commission, but says she counts as amongst her greatest successes the development of the firm, becoming global practice leader for antitrust after the merger with Bruckhaus and Deringer in 2000. She believes the qualities that make a successful lawyer include resilience, physical stamina, good organisation and a sense of humour.
Deirdre has lots of advice for aspiring female lawyers. Firstly, she says it’s important for young lawyers to focus on giving advice to clients, rather than focusing on the partner or hierarchy that you’re working in. “Obviously it’s terribly important to get on well within your hierarchy, but they’re not the client and at the end of the day your job is to connect with the client and solve their problem. You see a lot of women just turning into ‘safe pairs of hands’, which is a kiss of death expression, in a supporting role and they plateau.”
Secondly, she is concerned about young women deflecting praise. While you shouldn’t claim somebody else’s achievements, women need to learn to take credit for their own, and not be shy about it. “You need to achieve recognition for what you’ve achieved and the benefits that you’ve delivered in your organisation.”
Thirdly, women need to learn to project authority. “Being deferential, stopping when someone interrupts them rudely, saying sorry all the time when actually they are not at fault, not sitting in the right place room where they can command the room. There’s a lot of physical and verbal minimising that women do which ends up marginalising them. Often unless you’ve seen yourself on video you don’t even know you’re doing it, because it’s so culturally ingrained in women to defer…. but you need a little bit of personal presence and to make a physical impact.”
Deirdre had to train herself out of these behaviours too. “When I first started here I didn’t ever want to put my head above my books. Presenting to a group of people was an absolute nightmare. But it is learned behaviour, and if it doesn’t come naturally, the organisations that you work in need to provide you with the right kind of training. As part of creating a level playing field, you need affirmatory support in that area, to give you encouragement and license to change some pretty ingrained habits. You also need affirmatory behaviour with men, to deal with some of the ways that they behave which they may not appreciate make it difficult for women to shine or even to survive in the work environment that they create.”
About twelve years ago, Deirdre and her family moved from London to a farm in Kent, so in her spare time she enjoys gardening. “It’s very relaxing. We’ve got a flock of sheep and horses, chickens and a donkey and I’ve got an enormous vegetable garden. It’s very satisfying after a tough week at work to go round doing a lot of deadheading.”
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
Margaret Kidd was the first female member of the Faculty of Advocates and remained the only female advocate in Scotland for over 25 years. She was also the first female advocate to appear before the House of Lords and before a parliamentary select committee, and the first woman appointed King’s Counsel in the UK.
Born in Bo’ness on the 14th March 1900, Margaret’s father was a solicitor and Unionist MP and her mother was a teacher. The eldest of nine children, she was educated at Linlithgow Academy, and went on to study law at Edinburgh, graduating with an LLB in 1922.
After training with Mitchell & Baxter WS, she was called to the Faculty of Advocates in 1923, becoming the first woman lawyer to have the right to plead in the Supreme Courts of Scotland. At her call to the Bar, The Scotsman reported on her clothes, remarking on her “soft white collar with narrow white bow tie” and her “straw hat trimmed with velvet.” The courts were so ill prepared for a woman that for a long time, the ladies’ robing room was situated opposite the cell of the condemned, and hot water was only put in after the Second World War.
In 1930 she married Donald Somerled Macdonald, a senior solicitor and a Writer to the Signet, and together they had a daughter called Anne. Margaret had a number of interests beyond the law, including politics. She supported Scotland remaining in the United Kingdom, and believed that trade would grow worse if Scotland became independent. When her father died in 1928, she stood for parliamentary election as a Unionist candidate, but was defeated. However, she was also proud of Scotland’s unique history, and in 1934 she helped to find the Stair Society, which was established to promote understanding of the history of Scots law.
Margaret also championed improving women’s access to work, and promoted equal opportunities. In 1930, she made a speech at Glasgow University entitled “Law as a Profession of Women”, where she commented on the difficulty of being a female advocate given they were dependent on male solicitors for work, and discussed how old lawyers were “inclined to be distrustful of women”. The Scotsman reported:
She did not want them to think that she had not received fair play. She had had an easy time, but she did not think that she had been so successful as she would have been had she been a man.
Margaret spoke of the greater opportunities for women to become solicitors than advocates, as they dealt directly with the public. However, she remarked on the difficulty not only of the “bias of the masculine mind” but also of the large numbers of women who preferred the advice of men, and that it may “take a long time before that attitude of mind was dispelled.”
In another speech, she complained of the “Victorian” idea that women should not be employed outside the home, which “did not show a proper appreciation of how important the freedom of the individual was to society.” As a result, women were not given equal opportunities in business. She was reported as saying that there was too much stress laid on the accident of sex, and what mattered was brains and character, and whether or not the job was done well.
In December 1948, Margaret was appointed King’s Counsel while she was still the only female advocate in Scotland. This was shortly before Helena Normanton and Rose Heilbron were appointed KC in England. On the occasion, The Scotsman remarked:
Although Portia took all the honours in a law report written by William Shakespeare, it is not recorded that she ever took silk. Miss Margaret Kidd, the only woman member of the Faculty of Advocates, has never had to use her eloquence in respect of pounds of flesh, but she has become a King’s Counsel – so far as we know, the only woman from either the Scottish or the English Bar to attain such a distinction.
For many years Miss Kidd has been what Homeric scholars call a “hapax legomenon” at the Scottish Bar. As the only woman in a hitherto masculinely exclusive and exclusively manly fraternity, and a naturally conservative one at that, her presence might have led to a certain amount of perturbation, or even resentment, if such commonplace sentiments can agitate the midriffs of advocates. The fact that she is one of the most popular and well-liked members of the Faculty is a tribute to her character and personality, possibly reinforced by her womanly intuition.
Although the work in which she has immersed herself has not brought her before the public as a pleader, she has served ably and well on behalf of the community. Recently, she celebrated her jubilee at the Bar, and her demonstration that a housewife can become a King’s Counsel will bring her well-merited congratulations from all quarters.
Alongside her work as an advocate, Margaret found time to lecture in public law at Edinburgh University, and work as the editor of the Court of Session law reports of the Scots Law Times between 1942 and 1976. She was also honorary keeper of the Advocates’ Library from 1956 to 1969. She became the first woman sheriff principal, for Dumfries & Galloway in 1960.
In 1975, Margaret was appointed CBE, and later received honorary degrees from the Universities of Dundee and Edinburgh. She died in Cambridge on the 22nd March 1989. At her funeral, Lord Hope of Craighead said “her success was won by strength of character, courage and integrity and is a mark of her true qualities that, despite what might seem to be the revolutionary nature of her achievements, she always held the affection and respect of others.”
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
Asma Jilani Jahangir was an eminent lawyer and activist, who fought for the rights of women, children and religious minorities in Pakistan and co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.
Asma was born in Lahore, Pakistan, on 27th January 1952. Her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani was a civil servant and politician who spent many years in jail for opposing the military dictatorship and denouncing the genocide in what is now Bangladesh. Her mother, Begum Sabiha Jilani was a businesswoman who pioneered her own clothing business.
Asma’s involvement in politics rooted back to her youth, where she became involved in protests against the military regime. After graduating with a B.A. and law degree from Kinnaird College, Lahore in 1978, she received an LLB from Punjab University in 1978. In 1980, she was called to the Lahore High Court, and in 1982 to the Supreme Court. Asma and her sister Hina Jilani, along with others, founded the first law firm established by women in Pakistan.
Asma was a staunch defender of vulnerable women and girls. In 1983, she represented Safia Bibi. Safia was a blind 13-year-old girl who had been raped by her employers and had fallen pregnant but had been charged with fornication and sentenced to flogging, 3 years imprisonment and a fine. Eventually, the case was successfully overruled on appeal.
In the 1980s, Asma became a prominent activist for democracy, forming the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) with her sister in 1981, which campaigned against Pakistan’s discriminatory legislation. She criticised the Hudood Ordinance and blasphemy laws, which added new criminal offences of adultery and made it difficult to prove accusations of rape. Consequently, women who came forward were being arrested for adultery themselves. Asma participated in a protest in 1983 against the proposed law of evidence stipulating that the value of a woman’s testimony was half that of a man. During the protest, Asma and others were tear-gassed, beaten by the police, and jailed.
Undeterred, Asma continued to campaign for human rights and her work started to gain global recognition for fairness and defending the most underprivileged. Along with her sister Hina Jilani, she set up the AGHS Legal Aid in 1986, the first free legal aid centre in Pakistan. In 1987, she co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a non-governmental organisation which promotes human rights and tracks violations. She later became its chairperson.
A fervent critic of religious intolerance, she was concerned by the politicisation of religion, saying in a lecture at LSE in 2017 “the law itself can become an instrument of persecution” when religion is brought into legislation, citing the blasphemy laws in Pakistan.
Asma and her family received numerous death threats throughout her career because of her work defending the most vulnerable and campaigning for human rights. In 1995, after winning a case at the Supreme Court a mob assaulted her, smashed her car and threatened her with death. In May 2005, Asma announced a mixed-gender marathon in Lahore to raise awareness of violence against women. Islamist groups violently opposed the race, and local police began to beat participants and stripped off Asma’s clothes in public, which she interpreted as an effort to humiliate her.
Asma served as the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Executions from 1998 to 2004, and as the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief 2004 to 2010. She also became Pakistan’s first woman to serve as the President of the Supreme Court Bar Association from 2010 – 2012. In 2016 she was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran.
Sadly, Asma died on the 11th February 2018 aged 66. She will be remembered for her unwavering defence of women’s rights and liberal democratic values in the face of challenging opposition.
Written by Rosana Siddique, a third-year law student at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.
R v Ahluwalia; a case which sparked changes in the law of murder and voluntary manslaughter, and raised awareness of domestic violence in non-English speaking families. But who were the campaigners that made the change possible?
Kiranjit Ahluwalia was found guilty of murder in 1989, after setting alight her abusive husband’s bed whilst he slept. After her trial, her legal team told her that there would be no chance for appeal, and she began her sentence of life in prison.
The Southall Black Sisters (SBS), a non-profit group who work to defend the human rights of black and minority women, heard about Kiranjit’s case from the Crawley Women’s Centre. SBS began to offer her help, by making arrangements for her two sons and providing support throughout her time in prison. But, sensing injustice, they began efforts to appeal for a mistrial. Kiranjit had previously not felt able to speak in depth about the abuse she suffered, but with the SBS’s help, she was able. SBS also began to search for a lawyer to represent the case. This was when they found Rohit Sanghvi, who went on to advise SBS in their campaign without legal aid. Together, they worked tirelessly to produce grounds for appeal.
In 1992, the Court of Appeal overturned Kiranjit’s conviction on the grounds of insufficient counsel – Kiranjit had not been aware she could plead guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Although they rejected her plea of provocation, the Court of Appeal accepted that the ‘sudden and temporary loss of control’ required for the plea of provocation was biased against women. While men sometimes killed suddenly when they lost their temper, women may not behave in the same way in the context of domestic violence. In response to this, the Court accepted cumulative provocation, which opened up the defence to other victims of domestic violence. The Court also accepted Kiranjit’s plea of diminished responsibility as she was suffering from severe depression. As she had already served three years and four months in prison, she was released.
The outcome of the case would not have been possible but for the efforts of the Southall Black Sisters. They not only worked on Kiranjit’s appeal, but mobilised the public into action, conducting demonstrations and meetings to highlight the prejudices in the criminal system, which received a great deal of media attention.
Founded in 1979 after the death of anti-fascist activist Blair Peach who had taken part in a demonstration against a National Front rally, SBS has expanded since then, aiming to ‘challenge violence against women; empower them to gain more control over their lives; live without fear of violence; and assert their human rights to justice, equality and freedom.’ Most recently, they are campaigning for justice for Seeta Kaur, a woman who was killed in suspicious circumstances following abuse from her husband. SBS is calling for reforms on honour-based violence against British nationals and is working closely with lawyers to challenge the acts which have occurred.
SBS also provide ‘information, advice, advocacy, practical help, counselling and support to women and children experiencing domestic and other forms of gender-related violence.’ They help women to gain legal representation, and support them throughout the process, and also work with public bodies, social services and courts when they believe their duties have not been conducted. They create reports of legal cases in gender-related abuse and undertake research and campaign for change in the law.
Following the case of R v Ahluwalia, the group has thrived, raising awareness of domestic violence in non-British families, holding the law to account, and working tirelessly to challenge the legal framework and prejudices which may be innate in the law, or in the cultures of the families they support. Without their attention to Kiranjit’s case, Britain would not have seen the media attention on domestic violence and the law may not have changed as soon as it did. The groups’ close work with lawyers and victims, providing emotional and legal support has paved the way for changes in law, and changes in many women’s lives.
Written by Francesca Rowe-Weller, third-year Law student at the University of Cardiff
In 1970, Claire Palley became a Professor of Law at Queen’s University Belfast. When she did so, she was the first woman in the United Kingdom ever to be appointed to such a post (though Professor Frances Moran had been a law professor at Trinity College Dublin from 1944 to 1963; it is an interesting fact that these two pioneering appointments both took place on the island of Ireland).
By the time Claire Palley arrived in Belfast in 1966 to take up a position as a Lecturer in Law she had already had a very interesting and eventful life. She was born in South Africa in 1931 and grew up in the city of Durban. She studied Law at the University of Capetown, and immediately after graduating took up a post as a lecturer in the Law School. However, she remained there only a few years, leaving in 1956 to accompany her husband, Ahrn Palley, to Southern Rhodesia. The Palleys moved to Rhodesia in the belief that it would offer a more liberal political regime than the apartheid system which then existed in South Africa. However, that was not the case, and both Claire and Ahrn soon became involved in opposing the racism they found in Rhodesia.
From 1962-1970 Ahrn Palley was Rhodesia’s only Independent MP, opposing the unequal treatment of the black population and representing the predominantly black constituency of Highfield. Meanwhile, Claire had five sons, and supported Ahrn in his political work, often acting as his researcher. She also wrote a series of articles on women’s rights for a range of magazines and journals. In 1960 she returned to work as a legal academic and was largely responsible for establishing a Department of Law at the then University College of Southern Rhodesia and Nyasaland. However, it became clear that the Palleys’ opposition to white minority rule in Rhodesia not only led to their own social ostracization, but also to that of their sons. Consequently, they decided to educate their children abroad, and it was this decision which led to Claire taking up a lectureship in Belfast; she was promoted to Reader in 1967 before taking up a Chair in 1970.
Claire worked in Belfast during the height of ‘The Troubles’. A constitutional lawyer by discipline, she was deeply committed to human rights, and wasted no time in making known her views about the injustices she saw around her. In addition to her academic writing, she wrote numerous articles in The Times about the ‘Troubles’ criticising the actions of the British Government, and she also appeared regularly on BBC radio. Several of Claire’s letters to the Editor of The Times on the subject of Northern Ireland were also published, similarly reflecting her desire to stand up for what she thought was right. In one of these letters, co-authored with her colleague Tom Hadden, the two academics commented: “We are not satisfied that complaints against the security forces are always investigated with the vigour which they deserve if public confidence in the general conduct of the security forces is to be maintained”. That letter was published in July 1973, only 18 months after ‘Bloody Sunday’ when British troops killed 13 civil rights demonstrators, and just over a year after the infamous Widgery Report on the incident, which found in favour of the British army’s version of the event, whereby soldiers claimed that they had been shot at, though the demonstrators maintained that they were unarmed and no shots had been fired at the army – a conclusion completely discredited by the recent Saville Enquiry (to which Professor Palley gave evidence).
In 1973, Claire left Queen’s University, to take up a post as Professor of Law at the University of Kent. Not long afterwards, she also became Master of the University’s Darwin College, a post she held for eight years. She then became Principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford, a post she held from 1984 to 1991. During this time, she led the College through a period of much-needed expansion and development, increasing the number of students and Fellows, as well as overseeing some ambitious building projects. The Claire Palley Building at St Anne’s College is named after her. During her time at Oxford, Claire was a Council Member of the Minority Rights Group, and from 1994 to 1998 she was the UK’s member on the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. She was awarded an OBE in 1997 for services to human rights.
Claire Palley was Constitutional Advisor to the Government of Cyprus from 1980-94, a post to which she was re-appointed in 1999, until finally retiring in 2004. Her well-received monograph, An international relations debacle: the Secretary-General’s mission of good offices in Cyprus, 1999-2004, was published by Hart Publishing in 2005.
Claire Palley’s life is characterised by an enduring commitment to human rights and the rule of law. Delivering the prestigious Hamlyn Lectures in 1990, she put forward a strong argument for widespread education in human rights, noting in particular the importance of all public officials and lawyers being imbued with human rights ideas, for unless that is the case, the risk is that they will pay mere lip-service to human rights, rather than having proper respect for them. This argument, with its acknowledgement of the political reality that institutions are made up of human beings, upon whose values we must rely, is both a philosophical and practical response to the complex issues surrounding the protection of human rights, to which Claire has consistently devoted her expertise and her energy. As the first woman to hold a Chair in Law in the United Kingdom, she provided a strong role-model; a successful career woman, mother of five and woman of affairs; but above all it is her determination and success in using her professional expertise for the analysis and development of human rights which will be her lasting legacy.
Written by Fiona Cownie, Professor of Law at Keele University
Picture © National Portrait Gallery, London
Denisa Gannon is the first Roma person to qualify as a solicitor in England and Wales. In an exclusive interview with First 100 Years, she describes why she studied law and how she’s got to where she is today, as well as her advice to aspiring lawyers.
Denisa grew up in the Czech Republic, but decided to move to the UK in search of a better life for her and her son after experiencing high levels of discrimination. The move was a relief; “I’m pleased that my son has access to education and he’s not going to be treated as a secondary citizen.”
However, as a single parent with little English, Denisa’s job prospects were poor, and she was left vulnerable to exploitation. At one point, she was evicted from her property and her deposit wasn’t returned. “It made me realise I needed to know my rights”, she recalls. As Denisa’s English improved, she started to help others in her community. “People were approaching me and asking for help… and I realised there were lots of people like me, who needed the same help as I did.” Denisa realised that by studying law she could understand her rights and help other people in vulnerable positions, as well as improve her employability.
She enrolled at De Montfort University, working as a teaching assistant alongside her studies and parental duties, a punishing schedule which required “a timetable for every minute”. Denisa also found time to volunteer for Street Law, a scheme where law students provide presentations to educate groups about their legal rights and responsibilities. Managing her time was “very hard” she says, “obviously the law degree is very demanding… but I was also working, and doing voluntary work, because you can’t go into law without experience.”
At university, Denisa had learn how to navigate the English education system, and write her first assignments in English. “My first exam in my first year I failed, because I had no idea what was required in an exam” she explained, “I had to completely change my way of learning.” However, she managed to turn her grades around, graduating with a 2:1 in 2012, and describes her law degree as a very positive experience.
After graduating, Denisa completed her two-year training contract at the Coventry Law Centre as part of the Justice First Fellowship scheme, funded by the Legal Education Foundation and Allen & Overy. Now a qualified solicitor, she works full time at the Coventry Law Centre having completed her training contract and fellowship in January 2018.
She is currently working on a project, in partnership with Foleshill Women’s Training and the UK Women’s Budget Group, to improve the financial security of women in Coventry by strengthening women’s access to skills training, confidence building, and legal advice. Coventry Law Centre will help women in the project in relation to problems with welfare benefits, debt, housing, immigration, employment rights and domestic violence, which all present barriers to financial security. She says she finds this work very rewarding, because “you can see the impact on somebody’s life when you help them, for example, avoid eviction, or solve their immigration issue… and the service mover can just move on with their lives.”
Does she have any advice for young people who want to study law? “Law is very competitive, so think twice. If you really want to do the law then you’ve got to have a plan. You’ve got to do everything you can to get experience, especially if you are from a background where you have nobody who can help you.” But if you stick to your dreams and remain proactive, it’s possible to succeed. Denisa believes the key to being a successful lawyer is “having a non-judgemental approach….to help your clients and act in their best interests, you can’t judge them.”
In the future, Denisa would like to see legal aid become more accessible “to ensure access to justice”, as well as an improvement in the gender pay gap. She has a few goals for herself too. She wants to continue to help vulnerable people in her community by expanding access to free legal advice. She also aspires to be a judge one day. “I have no idea how I’m going to manage all my goals, but it is a journey. It is a new challenge. And I’m quite looking forward to it.”
Interviewed by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
In an interview with First 100 Years, Eileen Pembridge has spoken of her experiences of setting up Fisher Meredith, lobbying for changes in domestic violence law, and being the first woman to stand for the Law Society presidency in 1995.
Eileen has had a very varied career. After starting off as a scientist, she switched to languages, and worked as an interpreter at the UN. Later, she worked for Release, the UK charity that provides legal advice and representation for people charged with the possession of drugs, which motivated her to qualify as a solicitor. Speaking of her motivation to become a solicitor, Eileen said “I thought there was an awful lot of injustice out there, and I wanted to do something about it.”
Qualifying in 1975, Eileen set up the firm Fisher Meredith with Mike Fisher. She describes the firm’s early days:
We started in Mike Fisher’s front room, and he had one of those loft beds in the corner, so if we had early clients and he hadn’t got up he had to stay motionless for hours. We had a filing cabinet, a telephone and a cat and that was about it.
While working at Meredith Fisher, Eileen became interested in domestic violence. “Women would come to us for help”, she explains, “there were so many women coming in, but no particular law to help them…it was ridiculous so we were lobbying in Parliament for a domestic violence law, which we eventually got in 1976.”
In 1995, Eileen became the first woman to stand for presidency at the Law Society, against an alleged “serial groper”. Eileen described how many women came forward and wrote to her about their experiences with him, but that Eileen had to explain to the men on the Council “that it really was an issue and it shouldn’t be allowed”. Although she describes fighting against the male dominated culture of the Law Society as a “bit of a battle”, Eileen maintains that women “could and did stand up for ourselves”.
The full video interview with Eileen Pembridge will be released by First 100 Years soon.
© Mitchell Library, Glasgow
Madge Easton Anderson was the first woman to be admitted to practise as a professional lawyer in the UK, when she qualified as a solicitor in Scotland in 1920.
Born on the 24th April 1896 in Glasgow, her father, Robert Easton, made surgical instruments. She attended Hutcheson’s Girls’ School, and later the University of Glasgow in 1913, graduating with an MA in 1916. During her MA degree Anderson studied Latin, French, Greek, English, Zoology and Moral Philosophy. She continued to study at Glasgow, graduating with a BL in 1919 and an LL.B in 1920, the first woman to graduate from Glasgow with a degree in law. During her studies, she received a variety of prizes, including a first class certificate of merit in Evidence and Procedures, International Private Law and Public International Law.
While she was studying, Madge had begun working as an apprentice law agent at Maclay Murray & Spens from May 1917. One of the founders of the firm, Mr John Alexander Spens, had advised Madge to enter into an indenture because he suspected it wouldn’t be long before women would be admitted to the profession.
After the passing of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, Madge applied for admission as a law agent, having already completed three years indenture as an apprentice at Maclay Murray & Spens. However, her admission was refused because her three years of training had taken place before the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, and had therefore not been registered properly, because at the time women were disqualified from registering.
She appealed to the Court of Session, the supreme civil court of Scotland, and the case was heard in December 1920. The opinion of the Lord Ordinary Lord Ashmore was that:
If the petitioner in this present case had been a man possessing the petitioner’s qualifications his right to admission under the Law Agents Act of 1873 would have been undoubted. Now the Act of 1919, in this matter of admission to the legal profession, has put the petitioner in the position of a man.
He argued that Madge possessed all the qualifications necessary, being over 21, serving an apprenticeship of three years under a qualified master, holding an M.A. and LL.B, and having passed civil and criminal examinations. While the apprenticeship had not been recorded with the registrar within six months of starting, Madge had attempted to record it. This should be sufficient because “in the case of male apprentices the Court has repeatedly and consistently accepted a reasonable excuse for failure to give due intimation to the registrar.”
Lord Ashmore remitted the case to the Lord President Clyde, who agreed that Madge possessed the qualifications required by law, and she was admitted as a law agent to the Scottish Law Agents Society.
Sadly despite being such an important pioneer, little more is known about Madge’s life. By 1937 she had moved to London, and was working for Edith Annie Jones Berthen and Beatrice Honour Davy, two pioneering English solicitors who formed a partnership and worked from offices in Manchester Square. Madge died in 1982 aged 86.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator for First 100 Years
In an interview with First 100 Years, Helena Kennedy, Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, has spoken of the changes that she has witnessed for women during her career at the Bar. Born to a working-class family in Glasgow, when Helena was called to the Bar in 1972, she describes the stereotypes that she faced:
I went to the Bar and I had the shock of my life because I was with people who were so alien to me… they were almost all young men who’d gone to very expensive public schools, so it was a very different world, it was like stepping into an Evelyn Waugh novel… When I started at the Bar, the stereotype of the successful woman was certainly not one with an accent, she wasn’t one from a working-class background. She was usually an upper middle-class young woman, and the ones who were successful were often ones who had forfeited family life one way or another… and had made their career their absolute commitment.
As a young barrister, Helena quickly focused on the gendered impact of the law. “We were interested in how institutions kept women in their place and often didn’t deliver well for women”, she said, “I was representing women who by and large shouldn’t have been in the courts at all, but were often being judged by men on the basis that they didn’t conform to the appropriate ideas of good womanhood”. Seeing this injustice led Helena to start campaigning and attempting to demystify the law, becoming a regular on Women’s Hour, writing articles and even creating her own drama series called ‘Blind Justice’, based on her experiences.
Since then, Helena has become optimistic about the changes she has witnessed over her career. “I’m afraid I still hear stories from young women at the Bar about bad things and experiences they have and discrimination” she said, “but by and large a lot of it has fallen away, and that’s something the Bar can be proud of… a very different kind of advocacy has developed, so that there’s much more space for all kinds of voices”.
The full video interview with Helena Kennedy will be released by First 100 Years soon.
Sybil Campbell was the first woman to be appointed to the professional judiciary full-time in Britain, when she became a stipendiary magistrate at Tower Bridge Magistrates’ Court in 1945. She remained the only full-time female professional magistrate or judge in England until she retired in 1961.
The eldest of three daughters, Sybil was born in Ceylon, Sri Lanka in 1889, where her father worked as an agent for the Anglo-Ceylon General Estates Company. Her mother was the daughter of Sir William Bovill, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. Initially taught by her mother, Sybil went to school in North Berwick when she was thirteen. After a few months at a finishing school in Paris, she went to Girton College, Cambridge in 1908. She read Natural Sciences before transferring to Economics, achieving a Third. She also acted as president of Girton College’s debating society.
Upon leaving Cambridge, Sybil worked as an investigating officer from 1913 to 1918 with the Trade Boards. Her work involved investigating working conditions in the ‘sweated trades’ in deprived areas, and enforcing minimum wages. Her parents were concerned for her safety, and insisted that she carry a gun during her inspections, which she kept hidden and unloaded. During the First World War, Sybil worked as an enforcement officer with the Ministry of Food in the Midlands, helping to prosecute black marketeers. It was here that she met Gwyneth Bebb, another trailblazer in the legal profession, and Sybil became the godmother of Gwyneth’s first daughter in 1919.
Sybil continued to work for the Ministry of Food until 1921. After the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, she joined the Middle Temple in 1920, and was one of the first ten women called to the Bar at the Middle Temple on the 17th November 1922. Afterwards, Sybil practised as a barrister in the chambers of H. H. Joy on the Midlands circuit. At the time, it was a struggle to succeed as a woman in the very masculine environment of the Bar. One contemporary observer remarked that women were not doing as well at the Bar due to the fact it was “an eminently selfish profession, marked by ruthless personal ambitions”, which relied upon public school links of patronage.
In 1929 she was appointed a member of the Trade Boards, and later she was given a position on the Court of Referees. During the Second World War, Sybil returned to work at the Ministry of Food, becoming Assistant Divisional Food Officer (Enforcement) for London. The Daily Express described her as “Britain’s number one food detective” and “the directing brain behind the organisation that trapped food profiteers and black market racketeers” She was awarded an OBE in 1942 for her work.
Sybil returned to the Bar and Referees Courts in 1944, and in March 1945 she applied for the vacant position of metropolitan police magistrate in the Tower Bridge police courts. By 1945 there were around 3,700 female justices of the peace, but no woman had ever been appointed as a professional judge. The Home Secretary at the time, Herbert Morrison, was keen to appoint a woman to the judiciary, and supported Sybil’s application.
Sybil’s appointment was announced on 3rd April 1945. While the press was generally positive, the Law Journal voiced doubts, questioning whether “the hearing of very unpleasant matters” was “the most suitable judicial appointment for a woman”. The appointment was also questioned by members of the Bar in a letter to The Times and in Parliament, with Russell Thomas MP asking the Home Secretary “on what grounds he departed from precedent”. Formal objections that Sybil had not worked as a barrister long enough masked underlying beliefs that women were not suited for the judiciary.
Within a few months, the national press were criticising Sybil for the severity of her sentences, which was almost double the national level for first offenders. Henry Lucas, who had worked for his employer for 35 years, was jailed for stealing four small Christmas puddings. After Sybil gave Arthur Whiffen six weeks in prison for stealing three bars of soap, 5,000 factory workers participated in a demonstration against her. The Sunday Pictorial published a full-page attack of Sybil entitled ‘The Lady of Tower Bridge’, leading to angry letters from individuals describing her as a ‘fiendish vixen’.
However, a police report supported Sybil’s higher sentences due to the nature of crime in the Tower Bridge area, and the Home Office concluded that “Miss Campbell’s sentences are severe but we have no evidence that her findings are unfair.” Despite this, Sybil was booed as she walked to work, and called names such as ‘the beast of Belsen’, enduring the criticism with stoicism.
Later in her career, Sybil gained a reputation for fairness. She visited prisons and probation houses to witness their conditions, and was sympathetic in her use of probation. She also served as honorary secretary for the David Isaacs Fund for the Poor of London. Sybil continued as stipendiary magistrate until she retired aged in 1961 aged 72, having remained the only woman to be appointed a full-time judge in Britain. A year after Sybil’s retirement, Elizabeth Lane became the first female county court judge.
Sybil was a fervent supporter of women’s education. She served as Honorary Secretary of the British Federation of University Women from 1921 to 1933, and Honorary Vice-President from 1947 to 1977. Her duties included acting as delegate to conferences in Madrid and Budapest. She also spearheaded the campaign for the establishment of Crosby Hall of Residence for international women postgraduates in Chelsea.
After her retirement to her family home in Argyll, Sybil devoted herself to gardening and her duties as Churchwarden. She died on the 29th August 1977 in Glasgow, remembered for her wit, determination, and sense of duty.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator for First 100 Years
Image © National Portrait Gallery
Theodora Llewelyn Davies was the first female applicant to be admitted to the Inner Temple in 1920, and one of the earliest women to be called to the Bar on 17th November 1922.
Theodora Llewelyn Davies, usually known as Theo, was born on 18 April 1898 in Birkenhead, the daughter of Maurice Llewelyn Davies and May Roberts. They had three children, Roland, Mary and Theo, but tragically May and a fourth baby died in childbirth when Roland was aged ten, Mary seven and Theo four. Their father never remarried and was helped in their upbringing by May’s sister Nellie.
Theo was educated at Birkenhead High School and later, after her father’s retirement at St. Paul’s Girls’ School in London, and she then studied law at London University for a year. This was in 1916 when many universities had extra capacity while most of their male students were away fighting in the First World War. In 1917 Theo went up to Girton College, Cambridge, to read for the Law Tripos.
Girton was the first college for women at Cambridge and had been founded by Theo’s great aunt, Emily Davies. Emily’s niece, Theo’s aunt, Margaret Llewelyn Davies, had also been a student at Girton, but she left after two years. Margaret was the General Secretary of the Women’s Cooperative Guild for 26 years, during which time the membership grew from about one thousand to 52,000. Theo’s grandfather, the Rev. John Llewelyn Davies, Rector of Christ Church, Marylebone, had been heavily involved in promoting the education of women. So it came naturally to her to go to university and find an interesting and challenging career. Her sister, Mary, became a GP.
Life at Girton during the war was very hard. The students were short of food and always cold. But, over and above these physical hardships, was the heartbreak as telegrams arrived with dreadful regularity bringing news of the deaths of brothers, fiancés and friends. For Theo the news of her brother Roland’s death in France came in October 1918, a few short weeks before the end of the war. He had been an adored son, brother and companion.
Up until that time, of course, there had been no possibility for women to practise law. However, while Theo was at Girton, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act started its progress through parliament. This would make it possible for women to become magistrates and solicitors and to serve on juries. It would also have enabled women to be called to the Bar. However, as she explained in a television interview in 1986:
The question of the Sex Disqualification Removal Act came up, and that was going to open a lot of things … magistrates and solicitors and a lot of things. Not the Bar, because they never had been interfered with by legislation and the thought of having their special personality interfered with was abhorrent to them. They thought that even the presence of women at the Bar was more endurable than having it interfered with by legislation! So, while I was at Cambridge, they opened voluntarily, by coincidence, without any unpleasant interference by the legislature, and it was therefore possible to be admitted.
Theo applied for admission to the Inner Temple on 9 January 1920, at the age of 21, and was the first woman to do so. “They had to alter all the ‘hims’ to ‘hers’ and re-do it. However the man behind the desk seemed to bear up and got it done.” Shortly after, on 26 January of the same year, Ivy Williams, was admitted to the Inner Temple. Because of their years of study at university both women only had to eat three dinners a term instead of the usual six. In addition to this, Ivy’s exceptional academic record from Oxford enabled her to fast-track, and she was excused two of the four compulsory dining terms before being called to the Bar. So Ivy was called on 10 May 1922 whereas Theo was not called until 17 November 1922.
As Theo put it: “Owing to her brilliance and hard work she passed at a level that enabled her to cut two terms. So by this I’m not suggesting special generalship on her part! She was, in fact, the first woman to get called to the Bar. Though she never practised but then proceeded to become a teacher of law at, I think, Oxford. I didn’t really know her well, though I’d met her.”
Theo’s family well remember her account of the first time she took dinner at the Inner Temple. Her elder sister went with her as far as the entrance for moral support, but then she was very much on her own. “There was very little fussification at the Inner Temple; that is the nature of the place. The Middle Temple and, still more, Grays Inn, have toasts and all sorts of things. But the Inner Temple is too grand for that, or considers it unnecessary… One just turned up. And I was of course scared stiff, but succeeded in concealing it, I think. I was then taken to the men’s robing room and given an ordinary black gown.”
She was kindly escorted to a seat at the end of one of the benches, so that her long skirt would not make it difficult for her to climb over. Too nervous to be hungry, when offered a choice of clear or thick soup, she chose the clear. And for all the following dining terms she was invariably served with ‘your clear soup, Madam’. The Custodian at the hall regarded her as his special charge. According to a newspaper report at the time, he “sternly rebuked a presswoman who asked for some personal description: ‘She was a lady … and when I say she was a lady it is a hint to others to belong to the same class.'”
There were no facilities for women at the Inner Temple in those days, but this problem was solved by allowing Theo a key to the Benchers’ House that was attached to the Hall. There was a women’s cloakroom there which was used when women guests were invited to social events. “Some thinker among the benchers must have decided it was a good idea.”
Theo’s decision to apply to the Inner Temple rather than the Middle Temple, where the larger group of women barristers were, was because her uncle, Arthur Llewelyn Davies, had worked there “and was remembered with great affection.” He and his wife Sylvia du Maurier were the parents of the five Llewelyn Davies boys who were adopted by J. M. Barrie after the early death of their parents.
She was taken on as a pupil at the chambers of her second cousin, Sir Malcolm Macnaghten and Theo Mathew, well known as ‘O’, the author of Forensic Fables, whom she particularly liked. These were common law chambers which was what interested her.”I was very lucky and enjoyed that part extremely. There was work and not really basic responsibility. Lovely. They were fearfully friendly and kind. There were only four of them.” The same chambers also took on Monica Cobb from the Middle Temple.
During her seven years at the Bar Theo attended various assizes and took some dock briefs but was mainly occupied in chambers doing a considerable amount of written work. On one occasion she went to Guildford, which was an assize town on the South Eastern circuit, with one of the barristers from chambers, expecting just to watch and take notes. The system at the time was that a defendant could have a dock brief if they were unrepresented, choosing any barrister who was present in court.
“I was taking a risk which I didn’t realise – that I might be picked by some enterprising criminal for a dock brief, which you had to take. I think it was half a guinea that you got for it and you might have to wait quite a time until the case came on. So the experienced slipped out when the dock briefs were offered. But it never occurred to me that I might get one. But the judge in question was Mr. Justice Darling who liked his joke of a morning and was well known as being a humorist, and so encouraged some man to choose me. I was appalled. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might actually be asked to … However, there it was. I had no choice.”
This case turned out to be that of a man who had assaulted his wife with a hatchet. Theo had a short interview with him in the cells and then had to chat with the judge, who was highly amused, over lunch and do her best with the case in the afternoon.
We have a newspaper report of another occasion when Theo was involved in a dock brief. The case was at Lewes Assizes and concerned the trial of two young women for a series of burglaries over a period of ten years. They were invited by Mr. Justice Avery to leave the dock to have a better view of the barristers. “Gordon, after carefully scanning counsel, inquired of Miss Llewelyn Davies, whose wig gives her a pleasing boyish appearance, “Are you a lady?” Blushing at the ordeal, Miss Davies replied softly: “Yes, I am a lady barrister.” “Then I will have you,” remarked Gordon.”
Theo practised at the Bar for seven years until her marriage to Roy Calvert in 1929. They were both involved in penal reform and particularly the campaign for the abolition of the death penalty and met as fellow members of the executive committee of the Howard League for Penal Reform. A few weeks after their wedding they went on a six week visit to America to report on the penal institutions there for the Howard League. One of the prisons they visited was the notorious Sing Sing, where they were invited to sit in the electric chair – an invitation that Roy accepted but Theo declined. The trip included the 59th Annual Congress of the American Prison Association. Theo’s typically written report on that Congress makes excellent reading. A few extracts give a taste of her at times caustic style:
“(The speech of welcome was) a monument of prolixity and tactlessness. An uninteresting presidential address followed… A series of speeches were read by more or less eminent persons… Speaking generally, much time was given to the utterance of platitudes and to mutual congratulation. This is not surprising to anyone used to penologists and more especially to American penologists… American penal reform societies are legion and their principal point in common seems to be dislike of each other… Under a superficial air of goodwill the Congress is divided into two more or less hostile camps – the Wardens (i.e. Prison Governors) versus the Reformers.”
Theo and Roy were the joint authors of The Lawbreaker – a Critical Study of the Modern Treatment of Crime, published in 1933. This was republished in 2016 in the series Routledge Revivals and contains arguments that are still relevant today. They had two daughters, Mary and Jane. In 1933 Roy died of septicaemia following a routine operation. He was 35. After Roy’s death Theo returned to live with her sister and her father whose encouragement and financial support had enabled her to embark on her career.
Theo continued to work as Chair of the National Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty and to serve on the committee of the Howard League, of which she was Vice-chair for some time. She also gave legal advice at a Citizens’ Advice Bureau as a ‘Poor Man’s Lawyer’ and was a magistrate for many years. Her father died in 1939 and the two sisters continued to live together until Mary’s death in 1976. They moved a number of times, living in London, Surrey, Cheltenham and finally Birmingham, the last two moves being to be nearer to family. She died in December 1988 at the age of 90. An obituary notice in The Times recorded:
Theodora Calvert was a lifelong agnostic, a pacifist and a passionate Labour supporter. Though her left-wing views did not wane with old age, her attitude to younger people showed a remarkable adaptability and openness of mind. Her many descendants provided an endless source of interest. For them and for many friends she was a fount of knowledge and wisdom whose affection and support, courage, wit and sound judgement have profoundly influenced their lives.
Written by Theo’s daughter Jane Wynne Willson, with contributions from other family members, 8 April 2018
Dorothy Livingston, first female partner of Herbert Smith Freehills has spoken to First 100 Years about her advice to young female lawyers, and what she hopes will change for the future. She says:
I’d like to see a future in which the legal profession is well balanced between men and women. I think to do that it’s very important to look at the promotion process, which at the moment happens to coincide with when a professional woman is likely to be having their children, and I think very conscious efforts need to be made not to disadvantage women in that process.
Dorothy herself was promoted to equity partner at Herbert Smith whilst pregnant with her second child, but she says it took her longer than her contemporaries to be promoted, because of the extra pressure to demonstrate she was good enough after having children.
After graduating from Oxford, Dorothy applied to several firms, with some writing back saying they didn’t accept women. Herbert Smith offered her a job in 1970. While today, women make up over 50% of trainee solicitors, at the time Dorothy was the only female trainee at Herbert Smith. However, although her experience in the legal profession was very male-dominated, she maintains that “I was respected by the people that I worked with, both the clients and in the firm.”
And Dorothy’s advice for young female lawyers today? “Have a thick skin. Keep calm, and be good at your job. Don’t be too reticent, and you mustn’t worry that people are going to criticise you if you open your mouth. You’ve got to be prepared to speak your mind.”
The full video interview with Dorothy Livingston will be released by First 100 Years soon.
Nancy Astor was the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons, after she was elected MP for Plymouth Sutton in November 1919.
An American citizen born in Virginia, Nancy was the eighth of eleven children. Her mother, Nancy Witcher Keene, had married when she was sixteen, and her father, Chiswell Dabney Langhorne had become a wealthy tobacco and railway businessman by the time Nancy was a teenager. Disapproving of women’s education, he sent her to finishing school in New York, where Nancy married her first husband Robert Gould Shaw II aged just 18. It was an unhappy marriage, and they divorced after four years.
Nancy moved to England with her younger sister Phyllis in 1905. On the ship to England, she met her Waldorf Astor, another American expatriate, and the couple married in 1906, moving to the estate of Cliveden in Buckinghamshire.
A mild-mannered man, Nancy encouraged Waldorf to go into politics, and he became MP for Plymouth Sutton. After his father died, Waldorf became the 2nd Viscount Astor and joined the House of Lords, having to forfeit his seat in Parliament. Nancy decided to stand for election as MP, winning Waldorf’s former seat of Plymouth Sutton as a member of the Tory party and becoming the first female MP to take her seat in Parliament. She was elected on 28th November 1919 and took up her seat on 1st December. However, Nancy was not the first woman elected MP; this had been Constance Markievicz in 1918, but as a member of Sinn Fein Constance did not take her seat.
Prior to her election, Nancy had not been connected with the women’s suffrage movement and Constance Markievicz described her as ‘out of touch’. However, in Parliament, Nancy supported welfare reforms, equal voting rights and access to the professions for women. During her maiden speech on the 24th February 1920 in a debate on Liquor Traffic (Restrictions) to an audience of over 500 male MPs, Nancy said:
I know that it was very difficult for some hon. Members to receive the first lady M.P. into the House. It was almost as difficult for some of them as it was for the lady M.P. herself to come in. Hon. Members, however, should not be frightened of what Plymouth sends out into the world…. I am simply trying to speak for hundreds of women and children throughout the country who cannot speak for themselves.
Many male MPs refused to speak to her initially, and Churchill admitted some had tried to freeze her out. Nancy later recalled, “I had the privilege of being the first woman in the House of Commons, and sometimes I used to doubt whether it was a privilege. When I stood up and asked questions affecting women and children… I used to be shouted at for 5 or 10 minutes at a time. That was when they thought that I was rather a freak, a voice crying out in the wilderness”.
Within the hostile environment of a male-dominated Parliament, Nancy learnt to dress austerely and avoid the bars and smokings rooms. She remained the only female MP for two years, but later befriended other female MPs, including ‘Red Ellen’ Wilkinson, a former Communist. Nancy even proposed creating a ‘Women’s Party’ but political differences meant this did not come to fruition.
During the 1920s, Nancy made several speeches in Parliament. A staunch teetotaller herself, she introduced the first Private Member’s Bill sponsored by a woman, becoming the Intoxicating Liquor (Sale to Persons under 18) Act 1923, which raised the legal age for consuming alcohol in a public house from 14 to 18, a law which remains to this day. Nancy was also concerned with the treatment of juvenile victims of crime, contributing to the Departmental Committee on Sexual Offences Against Young People in 1925.
Nancy never held a ministerial post, but she was well liked for her wit and informal style. Her exchanges with Winston Churchill are infamous. When Churchill supposedly told Nancy that having a woman in Parliament was like having one intrude on him in the bathroom, she retorted “you’re not handsome enough to have such fears”. On another occasion, when Churchill asked what disguise he should wear to a masquerade ball, Nancy replied “Why don’t you come sober, Prime Minister?”.
In her later years as MP, Nancy’s popularity waned. In the 1930s, her son Bobby was arrested for homosexual offences, which caused harm to her political career. Nancy also made a number of unpopular speeches, including one arguing that alcohol use was the reason Australia had beaten England in cricket. In another rambling speech, she claimed that a Catholic conspiracy was subverting the foreign office.
At the Astor estate of Cliveden, Nancy became renowned as a hostess for members of the political and social elite, cultivating friendships with influential men across the political sphere. She converted to Christian Science along with her friend Philip Kerr, and supported his political clique Milner’s Kindergarten, which advocated the expansion of British imperialism.
Nancy was also friends with George Bernard Shaw for over twenty years, despite their markedly different political opinions. In 1931 the pair visited Russia and were granted an interview with Stalin. In her abrupt manner, Nancy asked Stalin, “When are you going to stop killing people?”, to which Stalin replied “When it is no longer necessary for the protection of the state”.
Many of Nancy’s friends were supporters of the appeasement of Hitler, and some accused the ‘Cliveden Set’ of being fascists, a claim which Nancy called a “terrible lie”. However, Nancy herself held some unsavoury views, and was strongly anti-Catholic, anti-Communist and anti-Semitic. In a letter to US Ambassador to Britain Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., Nancy speculated that Hitler could be the solution to the “world problem” of Jews. In 1939, the MP Stafford Cripps referred to her in Parliament as “The Member for Berlin”, showing how her views impacted on her political career.
Nancy served as MP until 1945 when, after 25 years in Parliament, the Tories and her husband encouraged her to retire, believing she had become a liability. She died on the 2nd May 1964.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
Mella Carroll was the first female judge of the High Court in the Republic of Ireland.
Born in 1934 in Dublin, her father Patrick Carroll was a founder member and Commissioner of the Garda Siochana, the police force of Ireland from 1922, and he later qualified as a barrister. Mella read French and German at University College, Dublin, before studying for the Bar at King’s Inns. In 1957, she came first in the examination for the Brooke scholarship at King’s Inns.
Called to the Bar in 1957 at a time when very few women were practising, Mella proved herself to be a formidable talent. In 1976 she was called to the Bar of Northern Ireland, and in 1977 she became the first woman called to the Inner Bar as Senior Counsel. For a period, she was the only female Senior Counsel practising in the Irish State. A popular and well-respected barrister, known for her good humour and decisiveness, Mella was elected the first female Chairperson of the Bar Council in 1979.
On the 6th October 1980, Mella was appointed the first female judge in the High Court of Ireland, and sat on the bench for 25 years, becoming one of the longest serving High Court judges in Ireland. A pioneer in a male-dominated profession, Mella was addressed as ‘my lord’ by barristers in her court for 10 years, until 1990 when she announced she would prefer to be called ‘judge’. Later, she was elected the President of the International Association of Women Judges.
Confident in dealing with both complex commercial cases and criminal cases, Mella’s legacy as a judge is remarkable for its scope and diversity. She made some groundbreaking rulings during her time on the bench, shaping the direction of Irish law.
For example, in Mhic Mhathuna v. Ireland  Mella ruled it was not unconstitutional to give greater assistance per capita to unmarried mothers than to married parents. In The Attorney General of England and Wales v. Brandan Books  she refused an application by the British government to prevent the publication in Ireland of the memoirs of a former member of MI5 (One Girl’s War by Joan Miller), judging that the public interest of another state could not curtail freedom of expression within Irish jurisdiction.
In the infamous murder trial of Catherine Nevin, dubbed the ‘Black Widow’ by the press, Mella directed that no press photographs of the accused be published during the trial and allowed no comment on her appearance, arguing that Nevin was entitled to protection for her privacy and dignity.
As Chairwoman of the Second Commission in the Status of Women, Mella helped to produce the 1993 report, which stated the demands of Irish women for equality. Many of the Commission’s recommendations have since been adopted. She also chaired the Commission on Nursing in 1997, contributing to transformative reforms to the nursing profession in Ireland. In recognition of her work, she was made an Honorary Fellow of the Faculty of Nursing of the Royal College of Surgeons In Ireland. In 2001, she was also appointed Chancellor of Dublin City University in 2001.
Outside of work, Mella enjoyed travelling and opera. She regularly travelled to Geneva to sit on the administrative tribunal of the International Labour Organisation, at one point serving as its vice-president. She never married, calling herself ‘unclaimed treasure’. Mella retired in November 2005 and died on January 15th 2006 after a long illness, aged 71. She remains one of the most influential women in Irish legal history.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
Photograph © Irish Photo Archive
In conversation with First 100 Years Cherie Booth QC has urged for greater social mobility at the Bar saying she believes that there are even fewer state educated people being called now than there were in the past, attributing this partly to a lack of legal aid work.
Describing her experiences at the Bar, Cherie said:
I have been in cases where virtually all of the advocates were women …. but the thing that struck me when I went to the Bar wasn’t just how few women there were, it was how many people there were who were public school educated and Oxbridge, and there was I a girl from a grammar school from the north.
Cherie grew up in a working-class family; her mother left school at 14 and her father at 16. This shaped her decision to become a lawyer, although “it was quite a strange decision” because she didn’t know any lawyers personally and nobody in her family had been to university. Cherie “wanted to make sure that in some ways I did something that was practical…it was a desire to be able to support myself.”
According to a 2014 report by the government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty commission, 71% of senior judges and top QCs are privately educated, and 75% attended Oxbridge, a proportion which has barely changed since the 1980s.
The full video interview with Cherie Booth will be released by First 100 Years soon.
In conversation with First 100 Years, Madeleine Heggs, who set up her own legal practice over 60 years ago, has discussed how she juggled the work/life balance, and why she thinks it’s harder than ever for young lawyers today.
Brought up by a single mother during the war after her father was killed, Madeleine went to a school which “knew nothing about careers”, and girls were expected to become a secretary, or if you were very bright, a teacher. She was the first from her school to ever study law, after her father’s old solicitor offered her articles. The only girl at her law school, an experience which she describes as “lonely”, Madeleine later worked for Bedford Lowe. Initially she was told they didn’t employ women in that capacity, but she replied “It’s about time you did then”, and so was taken on. “They were very sweet to me” she says, “but I found out my salary was exactly half of what the other man had got… I would never have got a partnership there.”
After living for a time in the US for her husband’s job, Madeleine qualified as a solicitor in 1954, and set up her own practice at her home in Ealing when she was expecting her first child in 1957. Over the next 24 years, she built up a successful practice dealing with residential and commercial conveyancing, probate, civil litigation and family law. Working from home, she was able to take her children to and from school, seeing clients at night to make up time. And did her husband help with the kids? “He belonged to that generation where men don’t help” she explains, “he liked his wife going to work, but that didn’t mean that he had to join in the housework, it’s a generational thing.”
In 1975, Madeleine got a letter asking if she’d act as Chairman of National Insurance tribunals, which changed the direction of her career. Later she became a Commissioner.
“I was appointed in November 1981, and it wasn’t until December 1979 that solicitors were entitled even to act as Commissioners, and there had never been a woman. They were all QCs or Benchers and I was a suburban solicitor… the only woman and practising solicitor amongst 14 men.”
Are things better for women now than they were? Madeleine believes that they may not be. “I look at my grandchildren and they have enormous pressures”, she says. “You have to do your exams first and then you’ve got to find a traineeship – it’s not easy and it’s very expensive and competitive.” Women are also having to work “colossal hours, which is hard if you’ve got a family.” Madeleine also criticises the lack of legal aid, saying while “a lot of people have rights, they can’t exercise them because they haven’t got the money for it.”
The full video interview with Madeleine Heggs will be released by First 100 Years soon.
Marjorie Powell is a forgotten name, buried in the history books, but she was, and remains, a very important woman. She was the first female student to join Lincoln’s Inn, paving the way for others to follow her.
Marjorie Powell was born on 5th October 1893, her birth was registered in Market Drayton, Shropshire, to a farming family. She attended Orme Girl’s School in Newcastle-under-Lyme, and remarkably, from these humble beginnings, attended Newham College, Cambridge, in 1912. Her attendance at the College was made possible by the assistance of Millicent Garrett Fawcett, the well-known suffragist, who from 1871 made it possible for women to have accommodation in Cambridge so they could attend all the lectures. Thanks to Mrs Fawcett and her own hard work, Marjorie Powell was able to gain a first-class honours degree in the Economics tripos. She went, almost immediately from finishing her degree, to a teaching position and was temporarily in charge of the study of Economics at Queen’s University, Belfast, lecturing there during the war, between 1916-1918. After Queen’s University, Belfast, she became an assistant lecturer in Political Economy at Victoria University, Manchester.
As records of Lincoln’s Inn’s Black Books show, in January 1919 the Council of Lincoln’s Inn met with twenty-nine male Benchers present. During this meeting the Right Honourable Lord Muir Mackenzie referred to communications he had received from the Treasurers of the other Inns of Court in relation to the application of a “Lady for admission as a student of this Honourable Society”. It is not clear whether this is in relation to Marjorie Powell, or Gwyneth Bebb, who had both applied at a similar time. However, Marjorie Powell was admitted to the Inn a year and three days later, on 16th January 1920, less than a full month from the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 receiving Royal Assent. This meant that she was the first female student of Lincoln’s Inn. Marjorie Powell was admitted even before Gwyneth Bebb, to whom she arguably owed the pleasure of being able to join an Inn of Court or to practice law.
In 1920, whilst she was lecturing in Manchester, she joined Lincoln’s Inn. At the age of 26 she was the first female student to be admitted to Lincoln’s Inn and one of only three female students to join that year.
However, Marjorie was never called to the Bar to practice law, choosing instead to further her teaching of Economics. In 1921, after only having worked at the University of Manchester for a very short amount of time she was promoted from an assistant lecturer to a lecturer. Her salary at the university was £300 per annum. In September 1920, she married the renowned physicist Harold Robinson in her home town of Market Drayton. Harold Robinson also worked at Victoria University, Manchester and he was a senior lecturer in physics.
Marjorie Powell’s personality contrasted greatly to her husband. However, it was, by all accounts, “a most happy match”. She returned to Cambridge in 1921 (having become upon marriage Marjorie Robinson), and took a position as a lecturer and a Director of Studies in Economics at the two women’s colleges, Newnham and Girton, for two years, becoming an associate between the years 1923-1938. She also wrote a handbook in 1922, entitled Public Finance, in the Cambridge Economics Series for Cambridge University Press. She was the Director of Newnham College Cambridge during the years 1933-1938. She settled in London in 1930 when her husband was appointed to London University as a lecturer.
Whilst there she had two children, to whom she was devoted. Unusually for women at the time, her children did not stop her academically, and she took a position in lecturing, in Birkbeck College, London. She taught at Birkbeck between the years 1930-1936, making her a very early example of a woman combining a fulfilling career with the responsibilities of motherhood.
The Royal Society’s Biographical Memoirs of Harold R. Robinson record that: “she was a small woman: it was reported that their baby carriage had to have the handle bar adjustable for height… she was bright, alert, sparkling and vivacious” and that she and her husband “each took a loving, amused, almost tolerant delight in the other’s difference. Until her death in 1939 they lived in warm understanding, affection and harmony, with much gaiety mingled with gravity when necessary”.
Marjorie Powell died on 6th December 1939, in Cambridge, at the age of 46, following three short months of illness.
Written by Kayleigh Cooper, Second Year LLB Student, School of Law, University of Worcester, with thanks to Hollie Fletcher for her initial research and contributions towards an earlier draft
Richard Pankhurst was born in the May of 1836, in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire to Henry Francis Pankhurst and Margaret Marsden. He was educated at the Manchester Grammar School and following that, Owens College, Manchester. In 1959, Richard graduated from the University of London with an LLB (with honours) and then an LLD. He had always been an active and somewhat radical socialist, so perhaps by the time he married Emmeline, he was the perfect husband. He was after all the author of the first bill attempting to get women’s rights, which became the Married Women’s Property Act 1882.
In 1867, Richard was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn, where he became a practising barrister, joining the Northern Assizes circuit. Pankhurst was also a member of the Bar of the County Palatine of Lancaster Court. Pankhurst was likely to be a key legal authority of his time, publicly showing his support for women’s rights and other equalities. Shortly after qualification for example, he founded the Manchester Liberal Association. Pankhurst was at one point the legal advisor to Lydia Becker and the Manchester National Society for Women’s Suffrage.
In 1868, Pankhurst was junior counsel the case of Chorlton v Lings (1868) L.R. 4 C.P. 374, with Sir John Coleridge QC as his senior. This was the first of the appeals brought in the Court of Common Pleas by women who had been struck off the voters register simply for being women. In this case, the court decided that women legally had no right to franchise. Byles J said in his judgment: ‘I think it clear from the words of the Act 30 & 31 Vict. c. 102, that the word “man” in s. 3 does not include a woman but is confined to a man in the ordinary and popular signification of that word.’
Pankhurst was a very active member of the political world, as well having established a career as a lawyer. Nicknamed the ‘Red Doctor’ for his controversial and incredibly liberal views, he found it difficult to succeed in politics. Despite campaigning for two seats in the House of Commons: one in Manchester in 1883 and one in Rotherhithe, Kent in 1885, he failed to win either. These failures in politics were not reflected in his legal life and did not dull his passion for campaigning, as he famously said, ‘Every struggling cause shall be ours’.
Although Richard pre-dates the campaign for women to become lawyers, his contribution laid the essential ground-work for what was to happen next at the hands of his wife and daughters. He was a male lawyer, who supported equality endlessly, arguably paving the way for the recognition of women in the legal profession, perhaps evidenced by his role in the establishment of the Women’s Franchise League in 1889. He campaigned for some of the main social issues which dominated his lifetime, including universal free speech, the nationalisation of land and even the eventual disestablishment of the House of Lords, which he famously described as ‘a public abattoir butchering the liberties of the people.’
Richard Marsden Pankhurst died suddenly on 5 July 1898, aged only 64.
Written for First 100 Years by Niamh Bowyer, Second Year LLB Student, University of Worcester
Written by Mark Pallis
In 1873, Charlotte Ray became the first African American woman lawyer in America. She set up her own firm and began what a contemporary called “active practice”. Then, just four years later, “on account of prejudice, was not able to obtain sufficient legal business” and shut up shop.
And that’s almost all we know about her life. Someone so seminal, such a trailblazer and we can’t even answer some of the most basic questions about her, such as, what was she like, what sort of cases did she work on, who were her clients, or why she quit?
150 years ago there was a spirit of innovation in the air, with more patents being filed in the late 1800s than at almost any other point in history; a sense of civic pride with ambitious social schemes and private societies springing up for the betterment of everyone; and mass immigration of a million people a year. Diversity, freedom, and the rule of law powered rapid growth and was making America ‘great’.
Washington DC was one of the most diverse cities in America, with the largest proportion of African American residents at 33%. It was the first to free slaves and had a policy of welcoming freed slaves at a time when other states didn’t permit newly freed men and women to stay. The white residents also comprised a sizeable proportion of Germans and Russians, not to mention Italians, Syrians and Chinese. There was a mix of some legal equality but practical segregation: the few existing laws mandated segregation in the public schools and recreation facilities, but not in the streetcars and public libraries. But the mindset was one of separateness. For example, real estate developers created areas for African Americans like Ivy City – where plots of land were sold off but no roads or running water was provided – and built fashionable gated white communities like Le Droit park – gated to keep the unwanted ones out.
Women faced significant barriers too. They could not vote – a supreme court decision of 1875 had made that explicit. Some states took steps to prevent women from becoming lawyers leading to another supreme court case where the judge ruled against women, saying “Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life.”
If we rewind back to the 1870s, Charlotte is in her early 20s. I imagine her this way: like anyone of her age, she thinks of herself as modern. She sees the world changing around her: the civil war is over, slavery has ended, new laws about equality are being written, and big new symbols of freedom and liberty are being erected. I see Charlotte as an optimist. Someone who believes in the new laws that she sees and has high hopes for the future. She’s got to be pretty determined – she was one of the first women to graduate in law and the first to be called to the DC bar. Did she try to get a job in an established firm I wonder? Was she rebuffed? Is that why she set up on her own? In terms of her family, we don’t know much: she was one of seven children; her father, Charles B Ray had been on the sharp end of racial prejudice as a student and went on to own a boot store, a periodical and practice as a Minister and journalist.
Who might she have known?
A former slave, turned newspaper magnate, Frederick Douglass was a powerful voice for African Americans. We know that he celebrated Charlotte’s graduation in his own newspaper The New National Era by printing an article proudly stating that Charlotte E. Ray is, ‘the first colored lady in the world to graduate in law’ and also that he ran adverts for her. So I feel it’s pretty fair to assume that they must have met. Perhaps Douglass and Charlotte’s father were friends? Perhaps Douglass was some kind of a mentor to Charlotte, finding her new clients through his contacts and using his influence to battle her foes behind the scenes.
William H White
Charlotte must have known, or known of, William H White. Tall, strong and brave, he was one of DC’s first African American policemen. According to newspaper reports from the time, William was so fearless in upholding the law, he even arrested US President Grant for speeding on horseback the day after a child was run down. President Grant took it in his stride, paid the fine, and even ended up becoming a friend to William. William was known to drink and I wonder whether Charlotte might have used him as someone with their ear to the ground – a source of tips and inside info. I also think that he would have been a very different male role model from Charlotte’s father.
The ‘Father of modern DC” was at the height of his powers when Charlotte began her practice. Questions have been asked about the degree to which he was a genuine friend to DC’s African American community and it seems that he would do pretty much whatever was necessary to consolidate his power. His fall from grace saw him investigated for financial misconduct and for doing favours to his political allies. He was involved in transforming DC through an ambitious series of public works, one of which was flattening Northern Liberties Market — an eyesore that also competed with the Center Market, in which Shepherd had an interest. Shepherd’s men worked with battering rams, axes and sledgehammers to demolish the market and a butcher and a boy and his dog were crushed to death in the debris.
Belva was 20 years older than Charlotte but lived in DC at the same time, and also studied law at the same time, gaining admittance to the DC bar following her request for an intervention by the President. She also famously lobbied congress for to change the law to grant women lawyers the same rights of access as male lawyers. They must have known each other. Did they work together on ensuring rights of access? It’s also worth remembering that in other states, women were facing all kinds of discrimination. In Illinois, the case of Bradwell V IIlinois 1872, was about the ban on women from practicing law: The judge stated:
“…the civil law, as well as nature herself, has always recognized a wide difference in the respective spheres and destinies of man and woman. Man is, or should be, woman’s protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life. The constitution of the family organization, which is founded in the divine ordinance, as well as in the nature of things, indicates the domestic sphere as that which properly belongs to the domain and functions of womanhood. The harmony, not to say identity, of interest and views which belong, or should belong, to the family institution is repugnant to the idea of a woman adopting a distinct and independent career from that of her husband.”
How much of that prejudice would Charlotte have faced? Would she have been barred from court just like Belva? Maybe.
What sort of cases did she work on and who might her clients have been?
No one really knows what cases Charlotte fought. All we know is that she had an ‘active practice’. It has been stated that she practiced commercial law and real estate law but what’s striking is that she was also the first woman to argue a case in the District of Columbia Supreme Court where she pleaded the case of Gadley v. Gadley (vt. Godling v. Godling), No. 4278, filed June 3, 1875. This was a case where she defended an uneducated woman petitioning for divorce from an abusive husband. The arguments were based on the grounds of “habitual drunkenness” and “cruelty of treatment, endangering the life or health of the party complaining”. So it seems likely that she was more of a jack of all trades, taking whatever cases she could find. This would also make sense if she was struggling to find clients – she didn’t have the luxury of being picky.
There are some really interesting cases from the time and in my mind, I can see Charlotte arguing them. For example, did you know that in the period, we see some of the first patents being filed by African American women. Take Judy Reed, from Washington, D.C., who was granted a patent in 1884 for a dough kneader and roller (U.S. patent No. 305,474). And then there was the introduction of African Americans on juries. Most interesting was a reference in the papers to one accused man – himself an African American – who didn’t want African Americans on his jury. He feared that they would be so keen to seem unbiased, that they would in face be biased against him. How would Charlotte have handled that case if she had been doing the peremptory challenges?
And finally – although there really is so much more I could say! – what about the collapse of Freedman’s bank – seen as the most secure and trusted bank for freed slaves in America.. Frederick Douglass played a key role in the bank. What scandals swirled under the surface? Did Charlotte use the bank? What about her family? Did they all lose their savings?
Why did Charlotte quit?
“On account of prejudice” is the only bit of contemporary information that we have. Would it have been racial or gender prejudice, or both? How would it have manifested itself? My imagination has it that she would have faced stiff opposition from the benches. The idea of Polygenesis or ‘scientific racism’ as it would later be called, was pretty widely held, and by some respectable figures. I can imagine Charlotte coming up against some very earnest criticism on account of her race and, in situations where she bested her detractors, them becoming even more strident in their criticism. Imagine if a Judge was like that!?
And what about clients? There were certainly no shortage of people with legal problems – the city was awash with immigrants and migrants and so it seems to me that even if Charlotte faced racism from white clients who didn’t want to hire her, she did have a large pool of other potential clients to draw from. Maybe her practice was made up primarily of immigrants and African Americans? Was sexism more of a factor? Hard to say, there are examples of other women lawyers in America at the time who managed to keep a steady practice but they are few and far between. Maybe in the end, Charlotte just got ground down. She started with lofty ideals but the daily grind, faced with seemingly endless racism and sexism must have been not only hard to take but just depressing. I’m sure she loved what she did, and to have to work in that kind of environment must have taken the joy out of it, making it much more combative. Maybe she felt that her skills were best employed in another field?
I hope that I’ve painted a bit of a picture of Charlotte and her world. I’ve been deliberately specific and used my imagination because I want to try and get more of a handle on Charlotte and her story. If you disagree with me, that’s brilliant! See this blog as a ‘straw (wo)man’. All I want to do is encourage debate and further study.
About the Author
Mark Pallis was called to the bar in 2003 and is the co-founder of Africa and Middle East Refugee Assistance, a legal aid charity based in Cairo. In 2007, he devised the TV drama Garrow’s Law about the trailblazing eighteenth century barrister William Garrow and worked on the show for its three series. Mark went on to become Creative Director at an advertising agency but retains an avid interest in legal history and loves shining a light on its forgotten heroes and heroines.
Today, International Women’s Day (IWD) will be celebrated around the world, a day to recognise women’s rights movements and women’s achievements. However, the meaning of IWD has changed over the years, and continues to differ between cultures. From a radical political demonstration, a celebration of traditional gender roles, a communist state holiday, to a day of action on gender equality, the various historical connotations of IWD have reflected changing perceptions of women, and contemporary political movements.
The birth of International Women’s Day in the early 20th Century was strongly linked to labour movements and socialism. The earliest Women’s Day was held in New York, on February 28th 1909, and was organised by the Socialist Party of America. In 1910, an International Socialist Women’s Conference, organised in Copenhagen and including women from 17 countries, voted to establish an annual International Woman’s Day to promote equal rights and women’s suffrage. On March 19th 1911, over a million people participated in the first IWD. Demonstrations took place across the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with women demanding the right to vote, and protesting against discrimination.
By 1914, IWD had started to take place on March 8th, with demonstrations in Germany, Russia and London. In London, Sylvia Pankhurst, was arrested on her way to speak to the protests, and 10 others were arrested during the protests, which were described by The Times as ‘wild scenes’ involving ‘vast numbers of people’ and ‘inflammatory speeches’. The arrest of Pankhurst, a prominent suffragette and supporter of labour movements, shows the links between IWD with what was seen at the time as radical and violent political movements.
The Russian Revolution began on the 8th March 1917, after women in Saint Petersburg went on strike for “Bread and Peace”, leading to mass strikes and seven days later, the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II and the granting of women’s right to vote. Following the Communist Revolution, IWD was made an official holiday in the Soviet Union, changing its connotations from a day of radical revolution to an official state-enforced celebration of Soviet women. Following this, IWD was predominantly celebrated by communist countries, heavily coloured by communist ideology, which preached the ideals of gender equality, although in practice women in communist countries still faced inequalities. In the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, IWD was marked by huge Soviet-style celebrations, and after the fall of Communism the day fell out of favour, regarded as a symbol of the old regime.
IWD remains an official holiday in many countries. In some cultures there is a tradition of men giving the women in their lives flowers and small gifts. In others, its meaning remains more radical. In 2007, IWD sparked violent protests in Iran, and police beat hundreds of men and women who were planning a rally. In 1975, the UN began celebrating IWD as a way of recognising women’s achievements, and since then celebrations of IWD have spread globally, becoming a rallying call for support for women’s participation in politics and economics. Today, in the year of #MeToo and #TimesUp, protests are taking place across the world on IWD, to push for progress in gender equality and women’s rights.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator for First 100 Years
In my opinion, it is sufficient to rest this case upon the inveterate practice of the centuries that, ever since attorneys as a profession have existed, women have never been admitted to the office, and, in my opinion, that shews what the law is and has been” – Lord Justice Swinfen Eady
Fems ne poient estre attorneyes” – The Mirror of Justices (14th Century law textbook)
What is the basis for a legal ruling that a woman is not a person for the purposes of a statute?
The starting point is a 14th century law textbook which states that women cannot be lawyers. Then, a 16th century scholar, Edward Coke, quotes that textbook approvingly but without any other authority. Three hundred years later, three justices of the English Court of Appeal refuse to interpret a statutory provision to encompass women, on the basis that “no woman has ever been an attorney-at-law.”
The year was 1913, and the case was Bebb v The Law Society.
Gwyneth Bebb was born in 1889. She studied jurisprudence at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, and received first-class marks in her examinations, but at that time women were not awarded degrees and so she did not formally graduate. In 1913, along with Karin Costelloe, Maud Ingram (later Maud Crofts), and Frances Nettlefold, Bebb applied to the Law Society to sit the preliminary examinations, with a view to becoming a solicitor. The Law Society returned her fee, informing her that if she presented herself for examination, she would not be allowed to take it, since as a woman she could not be admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court.
Bebb and her fellow applicants brought an action against the Law Society. In her suit, she asked for a declaration that she was a “person” within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843. The case was dismissed by the High Court in July 1913 and so Bebb went to the Court of Appeal, which heard her case in December of 1913.
The Solicitors Act 1843 came into force as part of a wider process of greater regulation of the legal profession.
Section 2 of the Solicitors Act provided that “No person shall act as an Attorney or Solicitor […] unless such Person shall after the passing of this Act be admitted and enrolled and otherwise duly qualified as an Attorney or Solicitor, pursuant to the Directions and Regulations of this Act.”
Section 48 of the Solicitors Act provided that “every word importing the Masculine Gender only shall extend and be applied to a Female as well as Male […] unless in any of the Cases aforesaid it be otherwise specially provided, or there by something in the Subject or Context, repugnant to such Construction”.
The issue in Bebb’s case therefore, was whether there was any reason why the word “person” in Section 2 could not be interpreted to include women.
Counsel for Bebb, Lord Robert Cecil KC, argued that by virtue of these provisions, women had a right to be admitted unless there had been an absolute rule of law disqualifying them; he submitted that there was no such statute. By contrast, women had acted as attorneys for their husbands in the reign of the fourteenth-century King Edward III (in the sense of acting on their behalf, presumably because their husbands were abroad, fighting the Hundred Years’ War); women were now permitted to practise as solicitors overseas; the recent trend of legislation had been to open opportunities to women. Counsel concluded, “There is no reason in the nature of things why women should not practise, and the plaintiff is a particularly capable person”.
The justices disagreed (although they did recognise the ability of Gwyneth Bebb). The statute could not be interpreted to include women, despite what it said in plain text, because women had never been allowed to be attorneys. There was not enough in the statutes to show that the legislature intended, by their provisions, to open the profession to women.
The message? That’s just the way it is.
The Master of the Rolls, Cozens-Hardy, went first. He considered that there was nothing in the Solicitors Act which destroyed or removed the existing disability (used here in the sense of a disqualification or prohibition) of women to practise as solicitors. The question in the case, therefore, was whether such a prohibition was in place at the time the Solicitors Act was passed. His conclusion; that there was. No woman had been an attorney-at-law, or had applied or attempted to be an attorney-at-law, and that this was the “long uniform and uninterrupted usage” which established a principle at common law that a woman could not be an attorney-at-law. It was not for the courts to legislate on the matter, but for Parliament.
Lord Justice Swinfen Eady followed. He set out a history of the regulation of the profession (fascinating but beyond the scope of this article). Like his brother judge, he remarked that “no instance of a woman attorney has […] as far as it is known, ever existed” and “From that time continuously to the present, there is no instance of any woman being an attorney” and this raises a presumption of what the law is on the matter. He was satisfied to rest his interpretation of the Solicitors Act upon “the inveterate practice of the centuries”. Like the Master of the Rolls, he concluded that “if there is to be any change from the ancient practice, it is a change which must be effected by Parliament, and the law must be altered”.
There was to be no dissent from Lord Justice Phillimore. It was the justices’ function to declare the law, and common law was to be determined by “what we ascertain to be the received inveterate usage of the country”. Again, the conclusion was ‘that’s just the way it is!’ There had never been a suggestion that the office of attorney was one which was open to a woman. Not only that, but there was an additional obstacle to female attorneys: married women were not at absolute liberty to enter into binding contracts, and so would be “unfitted either for entering into articles or for contracting with their clients”. Of course, spinsters were not limited in that way, but “it would be a serious inconvenience if, in the middle of her articles, or in the middle of conducting a piece of litigation, a woman was suddenly to be disqualified from contracting by reason of her marriage”.
It is hard to discern, at a century’s remove, what the justices felt about whether women should be admitted into the profession, even as they concluded that they could not. Lord Justice Phillimore stated that he would not express an opinion one way or another as to what the law should be on this subject. The Master of the Rolls rather tartly remarked that, “in point of intelligence and education and competency women – and in particular the applicant here, who is a distinguished Oxford student – are at least equal to a great many, and, probably, far better than many, of the candidates who will come up for examination.”
Cynical minds may wonder whether the justices would have found a way to interpret the Solicitors Act in Gwyneth Bebb’s favour, if they had truly wanted to do so. Others may respect their dedication to declaring, not making the law. Thankfully, it was only a further five years before the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act 1919 declared that “A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from […] entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation, or admission to any incorporated society…”, spurred in part by the publicity arising from this case (as well as the upswell in awareness of women’s rights from the Suffrage movements and the role played by women in the Great War). In 1922 the first women, Maud Crofts among them, passed the Law Society examinations, and on 18 December of that year, Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor in England.
Sadly, Gwyneth Bebb was not amongst them. She had died the year before, aged only 31, from complications arising from her second pregnancy.
So where are we now, reading the judgment in 2018? A married woman can now enter into contracts of course, and a firm like Kingsley Napley can have a partnership which is 52% female. On the other hand, as in Bebb’s case, the higher courts continue to defer to Parliament on controversial and uncontroversial matters alike, which leaves many without recourse until the slow machinery of the legislature turns its attentions to their particular cause.
However, there has been a dramatic change from the position in 1913, as a result of the Human Rights Act 1998 (“HRA”). Under s.3 and s.6 HRA, primary and subordinate legislation must, so far as it is possible to do so, “be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights”. If Gwyneth Bebb were to bring her suit today, she could rely on Article 14 of the Convention, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, and she would be in a stronger position to argue that women are, in fact, “persons”, for the purposes of the Solicitors Act.
Phar Hmee is remembered for being the first Burmese woman to become a barrister in 1926.
Little is left in the records about Phar Hmee’s life. Born in 1902, she was the eldest daughter of a well respected civil servant in Rangoon. After studying at University College, Rangoon, Phar Hmee came to London, to study for the Bar. In 1924, she applied to become a student at the Inner Temple. Her application included a reference from Harvey Adamson who had been Lieutenant Governor of Burma 1910 – 1915:
I have every reason to believe that she bears an excellent character and is a very deserving Burmese lady – her family is well known and respected in Burma….From what I see and hear I am confident that she is worthy of encouragement.
Her teacher in England, a barrister Joseph Allan Watson, was also “most favourably impressed with her character and attainments”, and provided a letter of reference to the Masters of the Bench. Phar Hmee was called to the Bar in 1926.
Later, she married U Myint Thein, who had also read law at university, and was called to the Bar by Lincoln’s Inn in 1925. On their return to Burma, Phar Hmee became the first woman to practise before the Courts in Burma, and U Myint Thein became Burmese ambassador to Nanking, Beijing and the United Nations, before becoming Chief Justice of Burma between 1957 – 62.
When the military regime seized power in 1962, they refused to cooperate, and U Myint Thein was imprisoned. Sadly, Phar Hmee passed away in 1962 aged just 60, whilst her husband was still imprisoned.
Written by Annabel Twose, Project Coordinator of First 100 Years
Joan Stanley Rubinstein, pioneer female solicitor, marriage guidance counsellor, psychotherapist and founder member of Resolution was born in Kensington on the 18th November 1921, into a long standing family of solicitors.
After war service at Bletchley Park (breaking Japanese codes) she was articled to her Father and admitted as a solicitor in 1947. Although Rubinsteins had a strong reputation for publishing law (for example acting for Penguin Books in the famous obscenity trial in 1960 concerning “Lady Chatterley’s Lover”) Joan worked on the Divorce side and from the beginning felt that the confrontational, litigious attitude was wrong. In those days even the Divorce itself was contentious, requiring a finding of “fault” on the part of one spouse held to be the “guilty” party. That person was then liable to lose everything – home, money, children, reputation, the lot – the “innocent” party having “won” the Divorce case. Believing this to be fundamentally dishonest, Joan met with the then Law Society Secretary-General, Sir Thomas Lund, to discuss introducing guidance to solicitors to work towards reducing that acrimony and unfairness. He expressed sympathy but wanted to know how the proposed new approach would make money for solicitors. If it did not, he said, the proposal would be a non starter.
But feisty Joan did not give up. In 1964 she was invited by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, to contribute to his Inquiry into a fairer and more modern Divorce process. The outcome was the 1966 “Putting Asunder” report recommending full scale change and resulting in the Divorce Reform Acts 1969 and 1971.
The new legislation introduced the separation grounds for Divorce, the Special Procedure for the Decree and the discretionary process for financial division.
Thereafter in 1982 Resolution (initially named the Solicitors’ Family Law Association) was founded. 35 years on Resolution, remains a highly respected organisation and the conciliatory, non confrontational approach is embraced throughout the family law system.
Joan did not have to face the modern motherhood/work/life juggle but of course she encountered issues at a time when women comprised only a tiny proportion of the profession. She was for example informed that she was not entitled to dine at The Law Society in Chancery Lane. Her Dad had taken her to lunch in the dining room.
“ Sir, Madam, Sir,” said a very embarrassed waitress “I am sorry but women are not allowed in here”. “My daughter is not a woman,” replied Mr Rubinstein politely “she is an Articled Clerk!” Father and daughter enjoyed their meal.
Whilst still in legal practice Joan trained as a Marriage Guidance counsellor going on to develop that in retirement by becoming a psychoanalytic psychotherapist. Her hobbies were holidays, modest amounts of wine and cream cakes. Right up to shortly before her death it was a pleasure to visit her at her Islington home.
“Miss Joan” as she was known to her clients remained a spinster and had no children of her own but she is survived by her nephew solicitor John Rubinstein and nieces Sara and Antonia. She died on 8th June 2017 aged 95.
For more information on Resolution visit: www.resolution.org.uk
Written by Christl Hughes, former high street solicitor and Chair of SBA The Solicitors Charity.
Women winning the right to enter the professions was an achievement “almost as important” as winning the vote, Baroness Hale has said.
Speaking at the event “100 Years of Votes for Women: an LSE Law celebration”, a gathering also addressed by Baroness Shami Chakrabarti and Nicola Lacey, Baroness Hale traced the history of events from 1919, praising the achievement of pioneers in the law such as Sybil Campbell, Elizabeth Lane and Rose Heilbron, whom she described as “probably the most famous Barrister in the country” in the 1950s.
Speaking of appointments made of the first female Queens Bench and Chancery Division judges, which only took place in the 1990s, Baroness Hale underlined that “the politicians knew, as they know now, that the gender balance in the judiciary was unacceptable.”
Talking of recent appointments, Baroness Hale said that “we have still a long way to go”, stating that, while she does not support positive discrimination to increase the number of women in the judiciary, those responsible for appointing judges should look more widely to find potential recruits. Referring to the number of women in the Government Legal Service, Crown Prosecution Service, Regulators and In-House legal teams, Baroness Hale asked “why aren’t they looking there?” Baroness Hale also ruefully remarked that her “modest” proposal to add a member of the governing party and a member of the opposition party to the Judicial Appointments Commission to ensure issues of diversity and equality could be taken into account had been “slated”.
Baroness Chakrabarti added that “the case of all-women shortlists in the labour party is worth looking at, because it has led to an exponential rise not just in the number of women in the parliamentary labour party but in Parliament altogether”, if only as a time-limited measure to increase the number of women holding judicial office commenting that “if you believe in the rule of law, you will worry about the legitimacy of the judiciary”.
Written by John Denis-Smith, Barrister, 39 Essex Chambers
With every great development in history, there comes a pioneer who enabled such progress to be made. Statistics from the Solicitors Regulation Authority suggest that in the UK currently, 33% of partners in law firms are now female, which is a far cry from the social climate prior to the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. Rosina Harris was the first woman to be selected as a senior partner in a leading London firm, opening doors for female lawyers ever since.
Born in 1921, Harris grew up during a crucial decade for women living in Britain. There was a sense of liberation in the air, with the voting age for women being reduced in 1928 as to be in line with men’s voting rights. Unsurprisingly, she grew up with the same resilience and drive reflected through this new-found empowerment. She attended St Swithun’s School in Winchester as a child. Harris began studying Jurisprudence at St Hilda’s college in Oxford in 1941. St Hilda’s, originally an all-girls college, was known for high academic entry requirements.
Studying at University during war-time Britain was just as difficult as you’d imagine, with some of the women having to take their entrance exams underground in bomb shelters. One of Harris’ peers, Mary Welsh, wrote a reminiscence of her time at the college. Despite the anxiety surrounding the war, Welsh’s account tells a story of college spirit. Their college days were spent studying in the day, and then attending concerts at the town hall in the evening. The women at St Hilda’s college were considered to be the “best fed college in Oxford”, despite strict rationings. Harris and her peers attended a formal dinner every single Sunday, and numerous balls throughout the year. Welsh remarked that very few colleges in the area were as undisturbed as they were. Other local colleges had to give up some of their buildings for war services and government departments. Upon occasions, St Hilda’s homed evacuees and students from other local colleges during the war.
The pupils at St Hilda’s felt privileged to be able to attend the college whilst the war was waging outside of the college walls. Their professors reminded them frequently of this, and as a result, all of the women were expected to carry out ‘war jobs’ alongside their studies. These jobs ranged from sewing pyjamas for evacuee children, helping to clean the hospital bandages, and taking turns on fire watch.
During the war, some of the students were offered to study shorter degrees, lasting two years rather than the full three. However, the girls were encouraged to take a break from their studies to assist with war time duties. Harris acted upon this, joining the Air Ambulance Service until the war ended. During this time, Harris drove an ambulance in London, Southampton, and other cities carrying wounded civilians during air raids. Harris returned to St Hilda’s when the war ended.
Upon completion of her degree, Harris was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1947. Barristers were few and far after the war, with the 1951 census listing that only there were only 3235 barristers in the UK; the Bar Council confirmed that only 1907 were in practice. Shortly after being called to the bar, Harris decided that it was not the career for her, and opted to qualify as a solicitor instead.
Harris began working for Joynson-Hicks & Co in 1953 as a solicitor. In 1977, Harris became the first women to be appointed as a Senior Partner in a major London firm, following the retirement of the previous partner. David Lester, a former partner in Joynson-Hicks, wrote that it was clear that Harris was the right person to succeed the previous partner, and she had little competition on her level within the firm (The Times, 7 December 2010).
Harris decided to move the firm closer to the Royal Courts of Justice. She made special efforts to encourage aspiring young solicitors to join the firm, offering them partnerships and sponsorships. It was thought that Harris’ work was the turning point of the firm, directing it in a new commercial focus, which is still anchored in the firm’s work to this day.
During her career, Harris became known as one of the great copyright lawyers of her time, spearheading the commercial sector for women across the United Kingdom. Harris was appointed as a solicitor member of the Whitford Committee set up in 1973 thanks to her growing reputation as a solicitor with unmatched copyright knowledge. The Committee comprised of prestigious lawyers, and their recommendations were highly regarded within the copyright sector.
Rosina Harris really did it all: she acted selflessly during the war risking her life to help her country whilst simultaneously building one of the most impressive careers in women’s legal history. Harris has left behind a remarkable legacy within the copyright sector, but also on a wider scale. Rosina Harris died on September 29, 2010, aged 89.
By Mollie Sheehy, LLB Student, School of Law, University of Worcester
In December 1919, the prohibition on women serving on juries in the United Kingdom was brought to an end. The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 was, itself, a compromise, with the government agreeing to lift various sex-based disqualifications but refusing to equalise the parliamentary franchise, or open membership of the Lords to women. And it is fitting that much of the academic work which has been done on female jury service after 1919 explores similarly political questions, tracing the subsequent half century of campaigning which was needed in order to challenge those rules which continued to keep women off juries.
And it is clear how these rules achieved this. ‘Peremptory challenges’ allowed the parties in felony trials to prevent someone from being sworn in as a juror, without having to justify their objection. As the Lord Chief Justice explained in 1927, a defendant ‘might have said, “I don’t like the expression on that person’s face”’, and that would have been sufficient. A trial judge could also order that all the jurors in a particular trial must be men, if he was satisfied that ‘the nature of the evidence to be given’ or ‘the issues to be tried’ required it.
There were also popular perceptions at play in restrictions on female jury service. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1928 film version of ‘Easy Virtue’, for example, dramatized complaints that women were not capable of dispassionate judgment in divorce trials. Four years earlier, a High Court judge had explained to an audience at UCL that the practice of removing all women from murder trials ‘had become in his experience universal’. And newspapers may have added to the fear that women could not be relied upon in shocking trials by regularly interviewing women who had actually served on the jury in particularly upsetting murder trials.
How many women were actually called upon for jury service? Rules drafted shortly after the 1919 Act was passed had required officials to summon jurors according to the gender composition of those qualified to serve in a particular area, subject to an absolute minimum of fourteen women (in case scare-quoted ‘feminists’ challenged all the men off a jury). This initially resulted in an average of 3.2 women for every 12 jurors summoned in the counties and 4.4 per 12 in those boroughs with their own courts; although by the end of the decade this had fallen to 2.7 and 3.0 respectively.
Just as the number of women summoned fell during the 1920s, so too did the numbers actually serving on juries. In the Midlands, the average assize jury went from having between 3.3 and 2.9 women in 1921, to having between 2.0 and 2.4 in 1929. In the south of England (excluding London), the average jury went from having between 2.0 and 1.3 women per jury in 1921 to an average of just 0.8 by the end of the decade. In the provincial assizes, the average number of women per jury was declining, but it also varied from region to region.
Why did the gender composition of 1920s assize juries vary so much? Was it simply that more women were qualified in some places? In Bristol, 2.7 out of every 12 people qualified for jury service were women, compared with only 1.3 women on the average Bristolian jury. Leicester’s jury pool had 1.8 women per 12, but its juries had an average of 3.1 women. In Norwich, the 2.0 women among every 12 qualified people translated into 1.6 per jury. The number of women qualified to serve doesn’t seem to have had much bearing on the numbers that actually served.
This means we have to start considering other local factors. Newspapers regularly reported judges warning their female jurors that an upcoming trial might be too unpleasant for them. Unsurprisingly, many (although by no means all) of these women took the opportunity to have someone else serve in their place. Such judicial gestures fed into a popular narrative that women were too irresponsible to serve. They also put additional pressure on local officials to ensure there were sufficient men in their jury pools to replace the women who – whether through challenge, judicial order, or invitation – found themselves taken off the jury.
By analysing almost 5,000 trials at the provincial assizes in the Midlands, southern England, and south Wales throughout the 1920s, it has been possible to assess the extent to which women were systematically kept off apparently ‘shocking’ trials. In all five of the assize circuits studied, at least 91% of sexual offence trials which did not involve a female victim were tried by an all-male jury. Conversely, an analysis of the number of all-male juries which tried property offences – presumably a much less ‘shocking’ class of case – found that they were particularly unusual in each of the five assize circuits studied.
The local component comes across more clearly when we consider all-male juries in trials for other – less obviously ‘shocking’ or non-‘shocking’ – categories of crime. In the southeast of England, all-male juries were particularly unusual for trials concerning homicide and offences against the state. In south Wales, the same was true for non-fatal offences against the person; and in southwest England, there were fewer all-male juries in sexual offence trials involving female victims. In the Midlands, where there were generally more female jurors anyway, there were no differences beyond the general trends noted above regarding male-only sexual offences and property offences.
We should not be surprised to learn that women were routinely excluded from juries well after the 1919 Act lifted the blanket ban on female jurors. What is surprising is just how localised many of these exclusions were. Women were far more prevalent on assize juries in the Midlands than they were elsewhere. And even within a particular region, different local traditions seem to have impacted on the trials which female jurors could try. By recognising this, we can see just how difficult was the challenge faced by those who thought women should no longer be kept off the jury.
This blog post is based on Kay Crosby, ‘Keeping Women off the Jury in 1920s England and Wales’ (2017) Legal Studies. It can be found at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/lest.12169/full
One of the first 10 women solicitors in England and Wales, Edith Berthen was also the first woman to qualify in Liverpool and later formed the first all women partnership with Beatrice Honour Davy.
She was born in 1877 in Rockferry, Cheshire, the daughter of corn merchant Thomas Jones Berthen and his wife Lucy Anne Edwards from Wrexham. Having obtained a First Class Honours degree in Philosophy from London University she spent the years until she began her legal training in 1921 either in teaching or in social work, even at one time operating as co-proprietor of Roseneath School, Wrexham. Her final teaching post was at Liverpool High School for Girls and it was in Liverpool that she qualified as a solicitor in 1923.
Her subsequent life oscillated between London and Liverpool, when in 1924 she started a partnership in London’s East End with Hector Munro, another Liverpool solicitor, then returned to Liverpool in 1927 to the firm of HJ Davis where she had initially trained, and finally once again returned to London in 1931, where she continued to practice until just before her death in 1951.
Berthen’s legal work in London appears to have had two distinct phases. Like many other early women solicitors Berthen was a Soroptimist and was very much concerned with improving the lot of the disadvantaged. Hector Munro, her first partner, was a resident of Toynbee Hall, a “settlement” where socially conscious university educated young men lived and shared much of their lives with the deprived of Whitechapel. He and Berthen gave a considerable amount of their time to provide free or discounted legal advice under the Poor Man’s Lawyer scheme, an experience which later caused her to conclude that “if you are a Poor Man’s Lawyer, by the end of the week you begin to congratulate yourself that you are not married.”
The second phase began when in 1931 Berthen entered into partnership with Beatrice Honour Davy. Davy, whose grandfather was a solicitor, had first qualified as a barrister, but having decided that “for a woman who must earn her own living, the Bar is the very last profession in the world” she re-qualified as a solicitor. The new partnership worked from offices in the far more salubrious Manchester Square just off Oxford Street where they trained several other women as solicitors, including in 1937 Madge Easton Anderson, the first Scottish woman solicitor when she left Scotland for London.
Written by Elizabeth Cruickshank, author and First 100 Years Champion
One of our student ambassadors from the University of Oxford, Wenyi Gaia Shen, discusses the current gender gap in university applications, with 100,000 more women applying to university than men. However, if we look more closely, the gender divide is reflected in the choice of subject, with maths and computer science being heavily male-dominated.
In 1878, University College London became the first British University to open its degrees to women, admitting for the first time women to the Arts, Law and Science Faculties on equal terms to men. One year later, Elizabeth Orme graduated from UCL, going down in history as the first woman to earn a Bachelor of Laws in the UK. Fast-forward 130 years from the age when women were denied the possibility of earning a university degree to the present time, and the number of women being admitted to university nowadays has considerably surpassed the number of men accepted into higher education. This year, the gap in university admissions between the sexes has reached a record high level in history, with over 100,000 more women applying to university than men.
As reported by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), in 1996 there was virtually no gender gap in university admissions, with male students comprising 49 % of total acceptances. Two decades later, the gender gap has become one of the most distinctive features of applications, doubling in size since 2007, according to the latest report released by UCAS. Young women in England are now 36 % more likely to apply for a university course than their male counterparts, and the gap is particularly distinctive when considering those from poorer backgrounds, where women are 58 % more likely to apply than men.
Looking more closely at the statistics per undergraduate courses, female students currently outnumber men in almost two-thirds of degree subjects in the UK. Men nevertheless remain over-represented in most STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, with the biggest differences registered in computer science and engineering. In this case, the gender gap has widened steadily in a direction contrary to the overall trend, reaching a high peak this year of over 20,000 more men than women undertaking such degrees. Women, on the other hand, particularly dominate in subjects allied to Medicine, Education, Arts and Design, with the biggest gap in Nursing, where women outnumber men twelve to one, with 22,000 more women accepted in 2015. Women are also ahead in areas such as Law, History, Philosophy, English and Biology.
Unsurprisingly, the gender make-up of each university is a reflection of the types of subjects offered at each institution. Some twenty institutions, including Cumbria University, where Education and Nursing are the most popular courses, and mainly universities specialising in art and design, have twice as many female fulltime undergraduates as male. In contrast, Imperial College London – a science, engineering, medicine and business institution – is one of two institutions where men count for two thirds of the undergraduate intake. Generally speaking, Russel Group Universities tend to have a more balanced intake, with Oxford and Cambridge admitting slightly more men than women every year into their courses. Nonetheless, the widening of the gender gap in admissions throughout the last decade is visible in the data concerning those institutions as well: King’s College, for instance, has seen its male undergraduate intake from 41 % in 2006 to 37 %, while the gap between male and female students accepted into the University of Edinburgh has doubled in the last nine years, and women now constitute 62% of first year undergraduates.
But what is the reason behind the growing gender gap in university admissions, and how does this data affect the future? Should we be concerned that an increasing number of young men seem to be less interested in attaining higher education? Mary Curnock Cook, the UCAS chief executive, believes “…this is an issue that needs addressing. If it was the other way round there would be an absolute outcry…”, citing that there is a “deafening policy on the issue” and that the school system is “letting down the potential of young men”.
Some educationalists have suggested that the reason behind the increasing gap between the genders in higher education is to be unearthed by looking into young men and their motivation. Some argue that men do not possess a desire as strong as their female counterparts to achieve high levels of academic success. This, in conjunction with the deterrence caused by the rise in tuition fees, means that young male students feel uninspired to pursue further education, opting instead for apprenticeships and courses such as bricklaying and plumbing to enter immediately into the professional world. This argument seems particularly compelling when considering that white boys from poorer backgrounds constitute the group least likely to go to university, as they are 42 % less likely to apply than females from disadvantaged families.
However, the trend in university admissions can be also seen in a positive lighting, as an indicator that more and more women in the UK are now confident in their academic abilities and empowered to pursue their ambitions in higher education as a result of a successful long struggle around women’s right to education – a struggle that is still ongoing in many less developed countries. Nonetheless, critics have not desisted to point at the phenomenon as evidence of a disillusioned climate so eager to dismiss any suspicion of misogyny that the once male-dominated higher education institutions are now ‘overcompensating’ by providing female students with opportunities not available to their male counterparts. Some stereotyped explanations, in fact, have blamed the trend on the methods and techniques used to prepare pupils for their GCSEs and A-levels, suggesting they are more ‘angled’ towards female students and that female teachers are part of the reason. These critics, however, have to be evaluated against a context which shows that there is no significant academic difference between young women and men at a pre-university level, with last year registering the smallest gender divide in A-level results in almost two decades.
Ultimately, the issue should not be turned into another ‘battle of sexes’. The gap between the genders in university admissions can in fact only be tackled by focusing on the socio-economic gap and, in particular, on the demotivation of young men from disadvantaged backgrounds. Moreover, it would be a misstatement to say that measures have not already been taken to tackle the issue: according to the Office for Fair Access, almost a third of universities are now running outreach activities, including taster subject sessions, talks with role models and mentoring through local football clubs, aimed at encouraging young men to apply to university.
All in all, in trying to address the issue, it should not be forgotten that women are still facing challenges in university and beyond, from “lad culture” on campus to the poor promotion prospects for female academics. Despite the government’s prioritising, subsidising and campaigning to incentivise female students, STEM subjects, traditionally seen as ‘male subjects’, are still dominated by men, and at least some of the increasing interest of women in pursuing a university degree can be explained in light of the shift in applications for female-dominated careers such as nursing and teaching. Moreover, female students may be motivated to consider a university degree as worth pursuing because of financial incentives, with female graduates earning three times as much as women without a degree, as opposed to male graduates earning around twice as much as other men.
Most of all, as the gap between genders in university admissions hits a record high, it is necessary to consider how this reflects on the students’ future after education, when young female and male graduates enter the professional world. It would not seem unreasonable to suppose that the growing confidence, witnessed in the last two decades, of young women wanting to invest in their potentials with a higher education degree translated into success in the job sector as well. Nevertheless, as reported by the Equal Pay Portal, the gender pay gap in the UK remains at 19.2%, meaning that the average British female employee still earns around 80p for every £1 earned by a man. This would be down from 23% in 2003 and 28% in 1993, as noted in a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), but has not varied significantly since 2013. More in particular, according to a research funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, this reduction in the overall gender pay gap does not apply to the mid-level and highly educated, for which the gap has essentially remained the same as it was two decades ago. The overall decrease, in fact, would be attributable to “more women becoming highly educated, and a decline in the wage gap among the lowest-educated”, as stated by Robert Joyce, associate director at IFS. Therefore, even if the number of women graduating from university has become in the last twenty years considerably higher than the number of male graduates, female graduates still earn less than their male counterparts, even where they have studied the same subject, as reported by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
Law is a particularly good example of a ‘female dominated’ subject at university which translates into a mainly ‘male-dominated’ working environment. Last year, 15,995 women were admitted to study law at university, almost two thirds of total acceptances, with a record high gap of 30 % between the genders. The gap was lower two decades ago, although female students were already over-represented in law courses in 1996 in comparison to their male counterparts, making up 57 % of acceptances. Such percentages are carried on in the profession, with 61.5 % of training contracts in 2012/13 going to female law students, as reported by the Law Society. Nevertheless, the EHRC reports that the biggest pay gap among graduates is in the legal profession, with women starting on an annual salary of £20,000, around £8,000 less than men. “Most graduates will get jobs” – as stated by Charlie Ball, deputy director of research at Higher Education Careers Service Unit (HECSU) – “but not on large graduate training schemes, rather with small businesses and local firms.”
Yet, gender inequality is definitely visible in major City law firms too, as well as in the judiciary. On average, female trainees make up, again, almost 60 % of incoming intakes at major commercial law firms, and this figure carries on at the associate level. However, in 2014, as reported in the Gender in Law Survey by the Chambers’ Student Guide’s, less than 20 % of partners in Magic Circle firms and US firms were women, despite efforts to promote greater equality of opportunity. Therefore, it is clear that even though female lawyers have made up over 50 % of new trainees since 1993, they are still not advancing to higher positions. The same issue affects the judiciary, with women making up only 20 % of High Court judges.
In essence, such statistics are a strong indicator that women’s educational success, overall, is not being carried through to the workplace. Female lawyers, as well as professionals in other sectors, are struggling to reach the most senior levels, creating a lack of female representation in the highest-paying jobs and industries and in leadership positions. In the end, much of the issue comes down to women’s career aspirations, the disproportionate impact of parenthood and a remaining unconscious bias towards female professionals and flexible working. Not surprisingly, many female graduates are actually moving into lower paid professions, and the gender pay gap widens considerably after a woman has children, as female employees receive 33% less pay an hour than men after they have their first-born, according to a research funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
Four women, Carrie Morrison, Maud Crofts, Mary Elaine Sykes and Mary Elizabeth Pickup, passed the Law Society’s finals examinations in December 1922. Later that month Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted as a solicitor by the Law Society of England and Wales. The other three women, including Mary Elizabeth Pickup, were admitted in January 1923.
Mary Elizabeth Pickup was born in 1881, the eldest daughter of Joseph McRoberts Snoddy and his wife Sarah Anne Truscott. Her family benefited from late Victorian prosperity and social mobility. Her labourer grandfather, John Hamilton Snoddy, moved his family from the unhealthy air and poverty of Limehouse in London’s East End to Pembroke Dock, a small but thriving town in West Wales, where her father, determined to make the most of his opportunities, joined the Freemasons, passed examinations to qualify as an engine fitter and eventually became President of the local Pembrokeshire Permanent Building Society. He was sufficiently successful to be able to send Mary Elizabeth to the University of Wales in Aberystwyth where she obtained a BA degree, after which she went to work in the offices of Thomas William Pickup, a Birmingham solicitor, whom she married in 1910.
Immediately after the passing of the 1919 Act she became articled to her husband., whom she had been assisting for at least ten years. In a newspaper interview she stated that for some time had been fascinated by the Law and was “convinced that there is a field open to women solicitors to do certain types of work”. Years of practical experience combined with her undoubted intelligence helped her to achieve Honours in the Finals examinations and the highest marks of the first four women solicitors.
Like Maud Crofts she was regarded as an able speaker and was accustomed to addressing women’s meetings and literary societies in Birmingham. Like Carrie Morrison she believed that legal advice should be available to all; Carrie Morrison gave advice at the Poor Man’s Lawyer Department of Toynbee Hall and Mary Elizabeth Pickup at the Poor Man’s Lawyer Department of the Birmingham Settlement. And like both Carrie Morrison and Mary Elaine Sykes she was a Soroptimist, becoming the President of the Birmingham Soroptimist Society, which set up a Mary Elizabeth Pickup Memorial Fund after her death.
But unlike these other legal pioneers Mary Elizabeth was already a mother when she qualified as a solicitor. Her elder daughter Evelyn was born in 1911, a year after her marriage to Thomas Pickup and her younger daughter Joan in 1914. Thus, while studying for her examinations and presumably carrying out voluntary work, she ran a home, assisted her husband in his practice and cared for two young children. All this testifies to an admirable energy and determination, but also perhaps suggests that she could have achieved even more had the legal establishment been less hostile to women before 1919.
She died in 1938 at the age of 57 only 15 years after she was admitted in January 1923.
Written by Elizabeth Cruickshank, author and Champion of First 100 Years
One of our student ambassadors, Ndifreke Ekaette, has been discussing the FHY project with a local school in Blackpool.
The first of a series of meetings, Ndifreke tells FHY about her first event and the importance of talking to a younger generation about the history of women in law.
Lawyers are a crucial part of our society, an opinion that outlined by Rennard Strickland and Frank T, who once said “Lawyers are the foot soldiers of our constitution” in ‘The Lawyer Myth’. The staple footprint of a lawyer begins at the early stages of one’s development in life.
The charity, Inspire The Future, gives volunteers the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young people. They do this by connecting them with schools and colleges to prepare students for the world of work. On the 21st March, I visited Blackpool Sixth Form to inspire the students to pursue a career in law and start their journey at the University of Law, my current university.
The Law is a unique profession that is continuously evolving to adapt to a fast-pace society. Unfortunately, women in the legal profession are underrepresented. The aim of my talk was also to encourage more girls into the legal profession through the First 100 Years project. Blackpool Sixth Form was the perfect sixth form to visit. They are highly regarded as one of the best among state colleges. They also consistently achieve a 99% pass rate.
The students were interactive, a pleasure to talk to and were able to demonstrate their potential as future lawyers. The outcome of my talk has opened opportunities for some of the students to support the First 100 years project, in its assistance with raising funds to document the success of women in law. The aim is to give young people the opportunity they need to create a better future. The best way to make a change in society is to influence a change first. Ignite a spark that will make a permanent positive change. My talk aimed to demonstrate that the birth of lawyer doesn’t begin after graduation of law school, it begins in the early years of one’s education. The next generation of our future can always be found in schools.
This years’ winner of the Inspirational Women in Law Award, Keily Blair, discusses the First 100 Years project, being disruptive, and having a ‘jungle-gym’ approach to your career. In her words, “diverse organisations simply perform better”.
The First 100 Years chronicles the journey of women in law since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. The Timeline highlights the “Firsts” achieved by women in the legal industry during this time. The actions of these trailblazing women have meant that it is no longer unusual for women to study law, to be admitted to the Roll or to be called to the Bar. In fact, at entry level, women are now often in the majority. According to the Law Society, in the year ending 31 July 2015 6,077 individuals were admitted to the Roll and 61 per cent of these were women. But how do we influence the future of the legal industry?
During the First 100 Years the women who sought equal treatment to men in the social, political and professional spheres were seen as disruptive. In recent years, we have seen the advantages of disruptive innovation in transport (Uber), in the travel (Air BnB) and in the restaurant trade (Deliveroo). Women must continue to be a disruptive influence to shape the future of the legal industry. We can do this in a number of ways including by introducing and championing alternative business models, career paths and leadership models.
Women are changing the business of legal practice. We recognise that clients are under increasing pressure to reduce legal spend and that the legal industry needs to change and adapt to meet these demands. Women are driving innovation in the legal sector by launching and managing alternatives to traditional private practice. Two of the most successful alternative legal service providers, Halebury and Obelisk, were founded by women. Women who have voiced frustrated with the traditional private practice model, and who felt it was no longer fit for purpose for both legal professionals and for clients. Women are also at the helm of multi-disciplinary practices like PwC Legal who recognise the relationship between business and the law and provide legal services embedded within professional services organisations to maximise efficiencies and cross-fertilisation of expertise. It is women who are listening and responding to client need and changing the shape of the legal profession.
In addition to providing alternative business models for clients, women are carving out alternative career paths within the legal profession. The traditional career path in a law firm is inextricably linked to post qualification experience and rewards the number of hours spent in the office. This linear approach to promotion has had a disproportionately negative impact on women. Legal recruitment firm Laurence Simons reported in 2016 that 62% of the women they surveyed said that their gender has hampered their career progress. Women disrupters are paving the way for alternative career paths within the legal industry by adopting a “jungle-gym” approach to their careers. Women are now willing to vote with their feet and move both laterally and vertically to achieve their career objectives. Women are pursuing alternative career paths and opportunities through the development of alternative business models, the growth of in-house legal expertise and the increase of flexible working within private practice. In the fight to attract the most talented Millennial women, law firms are offering better training and networking opportunities for women. Law firms are beginning to recognise that the needs of female attorneys may be different to the needs of male attorneys. Female-focused initiatives are being enacted, such as maternity coaching and return-ships, to help women deal with the potential career complications which are often associated with having children. Women are now forging a new and unconventional path to success in the legal industry.
Perhaps the most visible way in which women can shape the future of the legal industry is by rising to senior positions within the legal profession. The legal industry traditionally has a poor record of promoting women to influential positions. The McKinsey & Co and 30% Club Report, Shifting the Needle, noted than a man is ten times more likely than a female contemporary to make partner at a law firm. The case for diversity in firm leadership is compelling; diverse organisations simply perform better. In February 2016 Harvard Business Review reported that “going from having no women in corporate leadership (the CEO, the board, and other C-suite positions) to a 30% female share is associated with a one-percentage-point increase in net margin — which translates to a 15% increase in profitability for a typical firm”. This is the new battle-ground of “firsts” for women in the legal profession. It is still rare to see women in senior roles at top law firms and chambers. The number of women partners at Top 20 law firms remains stubbornly below the 20% mark. In recent years some progress has been made, for example Sonya Leydecker appointed as CEO of Herbert Smith Freehills and Penny Warde as Senior Partner at CMS Cameron McKenna. In July 2016, Liz Truss became the first female Lord Chancellor. However there is still a long way to go to achieve gender parity at the top of the legal profession. As the number of women in senior leadership positions in the legal industry grows, perhaps we will see a growth in alternative leadership models and perhaps we will have leaders who vocally advocate for the rights of women within the legal profession and beyond.
Given the make-up of the modern legal profession, there is no doubt that women will play in important role in shaping the future of the legal industry. The outdated business and career models which stifle growth in the legal profession, and stunt the women who work in it, must be challenged. Those at the top of our profession owe it to those who came before them and to those than come after them to be disruptive and to agitate for change. The responsibility to develop and champion other women in the legal sector belongs to every woman in the legal profession from entry level trainees to QCs. We owe to each other and after all “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other”.
As one of the Inspirational Women in Law Award finalists, Georgina Wolfe submitted a short essay on ‘How can Women Shape the Future of the Legal Industry?’. She tells the story of her own experiences in the world of law, in particular at the Bar, and how women bring unique experiences and skills to the profession that need to be supported to tackle the attrition of women in law.
Emmeline Pankhurst said: ‘You must make women count as much as men’. She was right. Women are already reshaping the future of the legal industry by their very presence within it, as equals to the men they work alongside. By women working throughout the profession, from paralegal up to Supreme Court Justice, we will make our legal industry stronger, braver and, crucially, more representative of those we seek to help. If we have a profession which reflects the society we serve, people will see it as deserving their trust and confidence. This will improve what Lady Hale and others have called ‘democratic legitimacy’. We can do this by helping and supporting the women around us and those following behind. We must make the legal environment itself more welcoming to women.
Last year, I was counsel in an inquest into the death of a man who had died in police custody. There were three other female barristers in court. The hearing lasted three weeks and was, at times, challenging. But, despite the controversial subject matter, often sharply opposing positions and emotionally-charged evidence, the four of us supported one another throughout. We each acted fairly and fearlessly for our clients, attacked one another’s arguments and challenged witnesses. But there was no posturing; there was no bombast. On the contrary, where one advocate deserved it, we would compliment her. We were four women doing our jobs and learning from one another. It was a pleasure and an inspiration.
This, along with countless other experiences, has taught me that women bring myriad different skills to the practice of law. Many of these skills are shared by our male counterparts. But what cannot be shared is the very experience of being a woman and the understanding, perspective and talent that affords. This is not simply about the frequently-denigrated ‘soft skills’ (which are often, wrongly, underestimated), it is about the insight, humility and wisdom borne of the female experience. To have a representative legal industry, it is essential that these qualities are deployed across all levels of the solicitor’s profession, the Bar and ultimately the judiciary.
But is there really a problematic shortage of women in the legal industry? Women outnumber men on university degree courses. For some years now, equal numbers of men and women have been entering the profession (indeed, women now far outnumber men admitted to the roll of solicitors). But in 2015, although numbers of male and female solicitors were comparable, there were only 5,600 women barristers in practice compared to 10,239 men. The attrition rate for female barristers is very high. On the bench, things are worse. Although since October 2009, there has been a woman Justice of the Supreme Court, seven years later there is still only one. Across the rest of the judiciary, the 2015 figures showed that women represented only 25.2% of judges in the courts and 43.8% in tribunals.
How can we retain women and ensure that women are represented across the legal industry? Quite simply, we must support each other. As women we are often less naturally inclined to blow our own trumpets; it is all the more important therefore that we champion ourselves. We must empower the women we encounter. We must share our techniques for balancing career with family or social life with all our colleagues and look for ways to encourage alternative working. We must share best practices – not just from our firms and chambers, but from our lives. We must confront sexism wherever we see it – not just the outright examples of harassment or unequal pay, but also the ‘benevolent sexism’ that undermines women. Men and women alike must be able to look up and see inspiring women whose careers they would like to emulate.
Together, by our day-to-day actions and by using the advocacy skills we use for our clients, we can bring about crucial change. It is not a ‘women’s issue’; it is a battle that should unite the sexes. We have a real opportunity for the legal profession to be a trail blazer in the promotion of women into the upper echelons of the profession and in the fight for equal pay. As the primatologist Jane Goodall said ‘You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.’
The women who make up The First 100 Years Project fought for their individual places in a man’s world. They are our role models. Now we are the generation, the new role models, who can change the system from within.
About the author:
Georgina Wolfe was Called to the Bar in 2006. She practises police law, public law and human rights, employment and personal injury at 5 Essex Court. She has appeared in some of the landmark cases and public inquiries involving the police. She is the co-author of The Path to Pupillage and is a member of the Attorney General’s B Panel of Counsel. She is the youngest and first female Trustee of the Harold G Fox Scholarship. She regularly gives talks to those wishing to pursue a career at the Bar.
My maternal grandparents, Elsie Waugh and Stanley Turner, married in 1932, and their first child, a boy, was born in 1940. They were living in Willesden when in May of the following year, in the thick of the Second World War, Stanley joined the Royal Navy, leaving his job as clerk in the Lincoln’s Inn chambers of Charles Romer, who had taken silk in 1937. Elsie took over as Romer’s clerk. Since the start of the war, a number of women had gone to work as barristers’ clerks, and in Lincoln’s Inn at the time there were seven, including five who were “keeping warm” the jobs left by their husbands in the services. Three years later, however, Charles Romer became a judge in the Chancery Division, and Elsie became the first woman to be appointed clerk to a judge.
As she packed up her books and papers and prepared to move from the Lincoln’s Inn chambers to her new quarters in the Law Courts, reporters from the Evening Standard, the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror asked eager questions about “guarded resentment” on the part of male clerks, which seemed to boil down to the fact that the Civil Service salary for the post was £540, set on the assumption that the holder would be a man. Those questioned agreed with the Daily Mail reporter that she had “efficiently carried out her husband’s duties” for the past three years, and so her ability was not in question. Elsie herself, it was reported, could see no reason for the fuss and newspaper attention; nor was she flattered by the interest. “I am no legal expert and claim no knowledge of the complex cases I hear in court,” the Standard quotes her as saying. “The work is just a matter of common sense. No more.” On the proposed reduction of her salary by £100 because of her sex, she remarked: “I do not feel strongly feminist about that.”
The rule that women should not appear hatless in court had been dropped in 1943, and when the journalists pressed her on dress, she replied sensibly that she would wear “just my ordinary, everyday clothes”, and a hat or not “just as convenience dictates”. By nightfall they were still pestering her, but she remained calm. “This is my war work. I have not the faintest notion whether I shall carry on afterwards. It is not a post requiring any great legal knowledge.”
Elsie accompanied him to the House of Lords to be sworn in to the Chancery Division, and the photograph of them together on that day shows Romer, in round spectacles, sporting his new judicial splendour: long wig, ermine-trimmed robes, black stockings and gleaming patent leather buckled pumps. Elsie, a pretty, un-fussed 32-year-old, wears a “smartly cut black costume, black hat and white tailored blouse”. She carries a handbag and a box file, and is hiding Romer’s umbrella behind one leg, because, she told my mother, she felt its presence would ruin the photograph.
At the end of the war, Stanley returned safe and sound, and resumed his work. Soon afterwards, Elsie had my mother, and didn’t undertake paid work again. On her eightieth birthday, she moved to Dublin, where she died in 1998.
Written by Antonia Hart
Written by Baroness Deech QC(Hon)
I studied law at a time when it was not at all fashionable for women to choose this – there were 8 women amongst 150 men in my year at Oxford. I got a place at Oxford on my 9th attempt at the admissions exams for Oxford and Cambridge (one could apply for both then,) I went to a tough girls’ boarding school, which I disliked and was not up to much academically, but gave me certain skills valuable in public life, although it took me many years to appreciate this. I joined the Inner Temple, which elected me a Bencher decades later. While studying law, I realised that I enjoyed talking about law and justice, reform and injustice, politics and law in society, more than the prospect of practice, and I thought at the time, wrongly as it turned out, that as a not-well-off woman one needed contacts and money to get ahead at the Bar. I read for the Bar, and then Jim Gower at LSE mentioned to me that the Law Commission was just starting up and needed young assistants. It was a wonderful start to a career. I was mentored by Lord Scarman and got to see some of the greatest legal academics and reformers at close quarters while being involved (checker of footnotes) in the research that led to the Divorce Reform Act 1969. Those were heady days for law reform: everything seemed possible.
I then had another stroke of luck – moving to Canada where my husband’s scientific research took him, I discovered that a new law school was being started in Windsor, Ont, and that the Dean, the late and distinguished Mark McGuigan, was looking for someone to fill in for him as he had been elected an MP. I got the job and started teaching a class of 100 students most of whom were older than I was, a real baptism of fire. Then we returned to Oxford and there was an advertised vacancy for a law tutor at my old college. I got the job ahead of Albie Sachs, and I have often wondered how his history might have turned out differently had he succeeded rather than me. Again, luck, my college had a nursery for babies, and I was able to return to work very quickly after my daughter was born. I spent 20 years fighting for more nurseries at Oxford – most academic women could not afford a nanny, and childcare is the key to carrying on teaching or practice. I also campaigned for a nursery for barristers in my time as chair of the Bar Standards Board, the regulator. Research at university was difficult as the libraries were closed at weekends, which was the only time one had to write articles; thank goodness for the internet now. The men’s colleges all had far more teaching staff per pupil than the women’s colleges did, and they refused to redistribute teaching posts, which meant that women were going to find it far harder to do research in any case and far more burdened with teaching hours. Law studies were beginning to be more popular with women and we admitted as many as we could in the women’s colleges. That early generation of women law students went on to do fantastically well as partners in solicitors’ firms and as barristers. However I remember in the early 1970s before the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 came into force, my bright student applicants for articles regularly got letters from leading firms saying they did not take women, or only took one female applicant a year. I blacklisted those firms for ever more when giving advice to my pupils. My college happened to be that of Ivy Williams, first woman to be called to the Bar. I took up administration in the university, in part I suppose because it was easier to fit in than research, and I enjoyed it, rising to become Principal of my college. I taught at the University of Cape Town for a little while and became a trustee of the Rhodes Scholarships and passionate about S Africa. My experience in family law and chairing meetings led to my being appointed chair of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Knowing the law was invaluable in this position, as we had to work within the parameters of the Act. I have never passed a biology exam in my life… I was appointed DBE for this work in 2002. After leaving the university world, my academic experience was useful in my post as Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education; also as a BBC Governor, a post for which I applied after seeing it advertised in the paper. Likewise I applied to the House of Lords Appointments Commission and was appointed a crossbench peer in 2005.
Summing up I can say that one has to reach out for opportunities, apply, volunteer and so on, as opportunity is unlikely to find you behind a closed door. Build on one’s past experiences. Network. Discrimination against women in general, rather than against me personally, spurred me on to try harder to change the settings. Law is just the best discipline a woman can take up.
The story of Ada Yeates and Sisters, legal stationers, scriveners and typists, who were the successors to a “law and commercial stamp retailer” business operated by Catherine Carroll since 1851.
Ada Yeates was born in 1852 to Robert Eustace Yeates and his wife Sarah. The Yeates family lived at Elm Hall in Celbridge, but in 1875 the house and contents were sold and the Yeates family moved to Dublin.
Robert Yeates died in 1880, and by the time Ada was 34, in 1886, Ada Yeates & Sisters, law stationers, appeared in the Dublin directory listings for the first time. Ada had gone into business with her sisters Amy and Olive, leasing their firm’s principal office at 74 Dame Street.
In Industries of Dublin the following year, Ada Yeates & Sisters were described as “successors to Wilkinson”, and in fact they appear to have been successors not just to Eliza Wilkinson but a whole line of businesswomen. There are a number of references to the firm’s having been in operation since 1788. Mary Rorke, stamp-stationer, was first listed in business at 3, Crampton Court from 1821, where she was succeeded by Catherine Rorke in 1834. Catherine moved the business to 74, Dame Street (previously occupied by the offices of Saunders’ News Letter) and was succeeded there in 1851 by Catherine Carroll, law and commercial stamp retailer. Carroll in turn was succeeded in 1861 by Eliza Wilkinson, law and commercial stamp retailer, who in later years added “printer” to her trade description. Eliza Wilkinson’s name remained listed until 1886 when it was replaced by Ada Yeates, “law and commercial stationer and printer”, and Ada and her sisters continued to work there for over twenty years. Ada Yeates’s will indicates that the firm she described as “Scriveners Typists Law Stationers and the like” was owned and operated by her, Amy, and Olive as equal partners, although in that first 1886 listing it was Ada’s name alone which features, suggesting that she was the founder and the driving force.
In April 1892, in the wake of some discussion about the training of women in legal work, a letter appeared in the Irish Times drawing the editor’s attention to the fact that there was in Dublin a firm “exclusively composed of educated ladies” who held “first-class certificates from both Irish and English universities”, and some of whom had received “special training in a leading London firm”, making them “eminently qualified to undertake both legal and literary work”. The firm this correspondent was referring to was the new firm of Nelson White and Company, whose offices in Eustace Street were about one minute’s walk away from Ada Yeates & Sisters. Solicitor Archibald Collum 2 wrote immediately to the editor of the Irish Times to point out the existence of Ada Yeates & Sisters, the principals of which had been “trained in legal work by a well- known firm of solicitors in [Dublin]”. In addition to their legal work, the women and their employees prepared manuscripts for press, “viz., law and medical lectures, scientific books, novels, &c; &c., drawing lease maps and tracing architects’ plans”. The firm of Ada Yeates and Sisters supplied a more detailed list of its services in an advertisement placed in the All Ireland Review in May 1901:
Irish Typists, Irish Scriveners, Irish Law Stationers, &c. Medical, Chemical, Engineering, and all kinds of MSS. copied in Type-Writing. In a highly finished style. Clergymen, Medical Men, Lawyers, Architects, Civil Engineers, Novelists, &c.; &c., have certified to the proficiency of the work by written Testimonials.
The advertisement also refers to “branch offices”, and the business must have been in a healthy state to have established these. They were across the river at 3, 4, and 5, Chancery Place. As the name suggests, this street was and is in the heart of Dublin’s legal district: it bounds the east side of the Four Courts from the river to Chancery Street. It would have taken the Yeates sisters less than ten minutes to walk from one office to the other, crossing the Liffey by any one of three bridges.
When the solicitor Archibal Collum wrote his admiring letter to the newspaper, his address was not published along with the letter, but his office was at that time at 74 Dame Street, so he worked in the same building as Ada Yeates & Sisters 3 . The sisters had earned the professional regard of Mr Collum, a member of a still exclusively male profession. There was no female barrister in Ireland until 1921, no female solicitor until 1923, but members of these exclusively male professions had by then been giving business to Ada Yeates & Sisters, and their predecessor female law stationers at 74 Dame Street for at least seventy years.
Archibald Collum and his fellow solicitors at 74 Dame Street, as well as being sources of work for the Yeates sisters, became supporters and friends. When Ada died in 1910 she left £212 for the maintenance and education (towards the priesthood) of the son of another solicitor in the building. This bequest in favour of John Paul Gleeson, and the wording of several other bequests (including “one hundred pounds To the Treasurer of the Roman Catholic Society for helping converts to the R.C. Church in England”) suggest that the Catholic faith was a significant influence in Ada Yeates’s life, and as the rest of her family were Church of Ireland (listed in the census records as “Irish Church”, and buried in Mount Jerome cemetery), it also appears that she converted to Catholicism, suggesting that in spiritual as well as commercial matters she was not afraid to make her own path.
74 Dame Street operated as a post office as well as a legal stationers’ and printers’ firm. Ada’s younger sister and business partner Olive had the impressive bouquet of occupations “sub-postmistress, law stationer, printer, stamp retailer, typist + scrivener”. Although Ada died in 1910, Olive and Amy continued the business without her, and it outlasted all of them: Yeates law stationers, which remained at 74 Dame Street, did not have its last listing in Thoms Directory until 1974, meaning that the legal stationery trade with which Ada, Olive and Amy Yeates were associated had continued uninterrupted for almost 200 years, for almost all of that time remaining at the same address, and run by women.
Guest Post by Antonia Hart, Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholar
Did you know that one of our FHY Professional Champions is the World Bank Group’s Senior Vice President and General Council?
Sandie Okoro, appointed to the position in November 2016, previous worked for HSBC Global as their Global General Council and has devoted much of her time to improving diversity in the City. She has been a trustee for LawWorks, the solicitors’ pro-bono group, and the human rights organisation JUSTICE. Sandie has also worked for the Legal Launch Pad which aims to get ethnic minority students into law.
The World Bank Group president, Jim Yong Kim, has described Sandie as:
“a highly regarded thought leader with a strong track record of developing new legal approaches in the field of international finance… Her experience managing legal and financial risks at global financial institutions will make her a great asset for the Bank Group and our Board.”
Okoro studied Law and Politics at the University of Birmingham before being called to the Bar in 1988. She then decided to qualify as a solicitor and by the time she was 25 she had already been appointed the Head of her firm’s Trustee Committee. Sandie was awarded an honorary degree from City University of London.
This article is based on the video interview with Linda Dobbs which can be found here.
I came to the UK when I was seven in the 1950s to stay with my English family, and I was usually the only person of colour in the area. I would have names thrown at me by the kids and I remember a great sense of injustice about that, because I used to think well they don’t know me. There was a great anger at the injustice so I’ve always been somebody who’s been slightly angry.
My family were saying that I must follow my father’s footsteps, go into the law, but I was not going to do what I was told. I was going to do what I wanted to do so initially I did music. I went to the University of Edinburgh and I realised once I got there that I didn’t have the necessary dedication to get anywhere in music. My peers spent every spare moment doing their scales and I was out playing sport and at the pub or a member of the dramatic society. I hate to admit it but it wasn’t in a way my decision to do law, I sort of fell into it because somebody said ‘have you heard about this new degree which you can combine Russian and law?’ and I’d done a little bit of Russian at school and I loved it, so I went on to do it at the University of Surrey and it was a unique degree in those days.
Then I went to the London School of Economics and did an LLM, and a PhD so academia was where I thought I would stay, but my feeling was that academics were too stuck in their own ivory towers and that the teaching of law ought to be out in the streets.
It was scary joining the bar in 1981. There were two other female tenants, which was quite a lot in those days. It was not as easy as a woman, not least because the older Members of Chambers still favoured the chaps. The clerks in those days, and some of the instructing solicitors didn’t want a woman, most likely because their clients didn’t want a woman. Clients made it quite clear that they didn’t want a woman, there was one chap up for drink driving and I had a specialist niche practice that I’d worked up on drink driving. I turned up and he took one look at me and said ‘I told the solicitor I didn’t want a woman’. I said ‘Well, it’s up to you, you can go ahead by yourself, or you can have me represent you and I do have a certain expertise and have good results on drink driving’. So in the end with great reluctance he went ahead with me, he was acquitted unjustifiably, and instead of saying thank you he storms off saying ‘I’m going to ring that solicitor and tell them how dare they ignore my instructions’. It slightly amused me. I remember some comment about the Attorney General taking on a token black and that I was just a coconut, and I didn’t know what that meant in those days.
What bothered me more, I think it was a test, where the Senior Clerk gave me a brief and it was to represent a couple of National Front youngsters who had thrown a brick through an Asian shopkeeper’s window. So I went and said ‘do you think this is a good idea’ and the Clerk said ‘don’t worry Miss Dobbs, just do Al Jolson in reverse’. Al Jolson was a singer who used to black himself up and have white lips so he was saying you know get a bit of tennis white and they won’t know the difference. I spent time with these two young lads and I was terrified, I was a youngster at the time. It wasn’t pleasant but if you got too upset about it then you weren’t able to do your job properly. It was difficult to complain about things in those days, there were no procedures, no equality code. None of it was recorded, so to prove that you were being discriminated against was very difficult. One solicitor used to send me work when I was a pupil and said ‘why aren’t you available’’ and I said well I was, but the Clerk had been tippexing my name out and giving work to the male pupil they wanted to be taken on as a Member of Chambers.
I was always reluctant to go onto the Bench, I think it was partly a confidence issue that I wouldn’t be able to do it or that people would think I’d only been appointed because I was a black woman. I was appointed in 2004 to be a High Court Judge, the first person of an ethnic minority. I thought that somebody’s got to start the ball rolling and I was trying to do that and change the lack of diversity. I was a little optimistic because it took seven years before the next person was appointed to the High Court Bench from a minority ethnic background, which is rather disappointing. It’s been very slow indeed and disappointing. People feel that being a High Court Judge wasn’t for them because you had to go out on circuit, which nobody wants to do if they’ve got family and kids and things. There is a combination of things, and also a lack of role models, because if you don’t see people like yourself there then you don’t want to be there. When I had my first Judge’s meeting I just looked around at the sea of male faces, people don’t realise that it can be lonely. Lady Justice Hallett was somebody who I always turned to if I had concerns or I wanted help, and in Chambers there was a senior female silk who I turned to but, being the first, who do you look to?
I think diversity fatigue is the greatest challenge at the moment. People think we have done diversity, but actually we are not yet in the mainstream when it comes to diversity, especially in the senior judiciary. At the present rate it will take 50 years for there to be gender parity. One has to apply the law coolly and without passion and therefore your gender is totally irrelevant. Of course women minority ethnic people bring something to the table, but not just because they’re women, because of their experience. I advise young people to get themselves a mentor, I mentor a lot of young people, and that they should do a self-analysis and know themselves really well. I’m proud that I feel I have made a difference to a lot of young people, it’s all about unlocking potential.