The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 “almost as important” as winning the vote for women, says UK’s top Judge

Published 8th February 2018
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”.

By John Denis-Smith, Barrister, 39 Essex Chambers