In 1974, Barbara Calvert QC, later known as Lady Lowry, was the first woman to be a Head of Chambers when she founded 4 Brick Court. Eight years later she broke another glass ceiling as the first woman to become a Bencher at Middle Temple in 1982.
Born on 30th April 1926 in Leeds, Barbara was the daughter of Albert Parker CBE, a chemical engineer, and his wife Lilian. She was educated at St. Helen’s School in London and studied economics at LSE. Barbara married John Calvert, a civil engineer specialising in sewers and drains in 1948, and they had two children, Paul and Sandra.
It was a New Year’s Eve party when Barbara first considered a career in law, encouraged to do so by a friend of her husband. Aged 35, Barbara was called to the bar at Middle Temple in 1959, at a time when only 3% of barristers were women, and joined the chambers of John Platts-Mills. From spending her time raising her two children, Paul and Sandra and “feeding the ducks in all the London parks”, she catapulted into the world of law, specialising in family law, and quickly gained a reputation for treating her clients like royalty.
Barbara formed her own chambers, motivated by a desire to represent those who would otherwise be unable to afford to seek justice through the courts, and to help young barristers who were struggling to find tenancy. In doing so, she challenged the male-dominated hierarchy prevailing at the time, and 4 Brick Court was swiftly nicknamed ‘the Monstrous Regimen of Women’. Looking back in 1994, Barbara said “they didn’t want us to succeed’, but despite the hostile atmosphere, the chambers flourished, and its founding ethos to help young lawyers starting out remains an inspiration for newly qualified barristers. Her support of six young barristers to set up their own chambers at 2 Plowden Buildings in 1977 further demonstrates her unwavering commitment to younger lawyers, and the chambers is still running today as 1 Pump Court.
In 1975 Barbara became a QC, and was the first female QC to take a case to the European Court of Human Rights, successfully challenging the UK government for breaching a convention, as it failed to give parents a legal right to apply for contact with their children who were in the care of a local authority. She was appointed a Recorder in 1980 and in 1982 was elected the first female Bencher of Middle Temple.
Upon leaving chambers in 1986, Barbara became the first woman to be appointed the Chair of the Industrial Tribunals, a judicial body dealing with employment law matters in Northern Ireland. Aged 75, Barbara became chairperson of the Grandparents’ Federation, working on behalf of grandparents separated from their grandchildren and advocating the importance of the child’s wider family and support networks.
John died in 1987, and in 1994 Barbara married Robert Lowry, Baron Lowry, former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary. Barbara established a student scholarship in his memory at Middle Temple after his death in 1999.
Barbara died on 22nd July 2015 aged 89. Her commitment to justice and her fierce determination have left a legacy proving that, in her words: “there is no height a woman cannot scale”.