We’ve already got a woman…..

Published 13th June 2016

I was called to the Bar in 1960. I managed to find a pupillage. Finding a seat in Chambers was much more difficult. Heads of Chambers were usually willing to see me but when it came to the question of a seat in Chambers the usual response was: We’d love to have you, my dear, but we’ve already got a woman. And that was that!

At that time, when women were trying to make a career at the Bar, Heads of Chambers and no doubt the members considered they had already done their bit in having “A Woman” in Chambers.

Eventually I found a set where not the active head but the second member in seniority offered me a place. However when the actual Head of Chambers heard this he was not happy. It took some time and persuasion by his colleague for the offer to me to be repeated. As far as work was concerned at the time women were considered acceptable to do family work (they may know about this) and crime on the basis they could melt the (male) judge’s heart when it came to sentence.

In the background as others have said there was always the voiced male concern about sharing the lavatories with women (as though they did not do so at home), sitting at their desks without their jackets and revealing their braces and telling their after court stories.

After about ten years in practice I moved from my first set of Chambers to a new set started by another woman member of the same chambers. We began with three women and three men. The fact of that number of women in one set meant that many men assumed it was a women only set.

The male concerns described above persisted even among judges until much more recently. In the 1990s although welcomed by colleagues to the Circuit Bench I recognised the same attitudes to begin with to my arrival and joint meetings.

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