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Lawyers are furious about Lord Sumption’s claim that more women judges ‘could have appalling consequences for justice’

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Trolling: Supreme Court Judge-style

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Twitter has erupted in anger at comments made by Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption warning of “appalling consequences for justice” if more women are rushed into the judiciary.

Blackstone Chambers‘ Dinah Rose QC is leading the charge against Sumption — who used to work at rival commercial set Brick Court before being fast-tracked into the nation’s highest court in 2012 — with support from former Court of Appeal judge Sir Henry Brooke.

But first more on those crazy Sumption comments — which are so out there and provocative that they almost seem like deliberate trolling from the Supreme Court man.

In an interview in yesterday’s Evening Standard, Sumption urged the legal profession to stick to the glacial pace at which it is increasing female representation in its senior ranks.

To do otherwise, said the top judge who is also famous for penning history books, would be to misunderstand the very nature of time itself. He explained:

These things simply can’t be transformed overnight, not without appalling consequence in other directions. One has to look at the totality of these problems and not simply at one of them. The lack of diversity is a significant problem, but it isn’t the only one. It takes time. You’ve got to be patient. The change in the status and achievements of women in our society, not just in the law but generally, is an enormous cultural change that has happened over the last 50 years or so. It has to happen naturally. It will happen naturally. But in the history of a society like ours, 50 years is a very short time.

If this wasn’t calculated to annoy, then Sumption must be, well, just a naturally very annoying person. Anyway, Twitter went wild — led by Rose:

At her side was former Court of Appeal judge Sir Henry Brooke:

Too many other top lawyers to mention also piled in…

By the way, the prize for best tweet in the Twitter storm goes to One Crown Office Row barrister Adam Wagner.

In the Evening Standard interview, Sumption also said that he backed female equality and wanted to see “hidden barriers to the progress of women” removed, while warning about the “difficult” high attrition rate of female lawyers at partner and QC level. He put this down to “frankly appalling working conditions” that men are more likely to tolerate.

Sumption went on to predict that in the future gender would one day be “a wholly random matter, so it will be either 50/50 or somewhere round there.”

Currently 21 out of 106 High Court judges are female, and just eight of the 38 Court of Appeal judges are women. The 12-strong Supreme Court, meanwhile, has just one female member, Baroness Hale.

24 Comments

Anonymous

Lord Sumption is right, he just lacks the social skills to articulate his point in a sympathetic manner.

His core point is that it would be wrong to fast track female barristers into senior judicial roles. That it would be better to make conditions for women (particularly mothers) better at the bar, to retain women at the bar, to resultantly see more female QCs, and then naturally get more female High Court etc judges.

I can’t really see what is wrong with that approach, provided you have a serious plan of action.

Of course the Proudmans of this world would say that she should be fast tracked to the Court of Appeal in the name of equality.

(63)(5)

Anonymous

Hmmm…. one of the outstanding advocates of his generation can’t articulate his point in a sympathetic manner? More likely explanation is that he simply doesn’t care how he comes across. He claims to have the long-term perspective of the historian (and he is a good historian, by all accounts), but doesn’t appear to care that long-term prognostications are no use to those who are affected now. As Keynes put it, “In the long run, we are all dead”.

(15)(5)

Anonymous

I think he is one of these ‘academic’ types who see things logically and in a clean cut way – perhaps less aware of the emotions and dreams he is trampling over.

(14)(2)

Anonymous

Lord Sumption is right. The comments on Twitter are appalling, and use language which brings the profession into disrepute.

(3)(2)

Anonymous

He’s got a point. Merit is more important in the judiciary than quota filling. Some of the left-leaning twitter nazi’s need to temper their pompous and headline grabbing words with a little common sense. Incidentally, that populist git Wagner is the worst for that on every occasion. What a truly unbearable man.

(35)(3)

Anonymous

Wagner is rent-an-inane-quote when it comes to every populist ‘liberal’ issue in the legal profession. Middle class guilt.

(18)(4)

Anonymous

Bet he listens to Snoop Dogg.

Bitches ain’t shit but ho’s and tricks.

(19)(3)

Anonymous

Cant wait until his next interview.

Wonder if he will complain about “the darkies” next?

(12)(15)

Anonymous

Those thumbing down clearly don’t get bantz

(1)(2)

Not Amused

The problem I have is this:

1) If Jonathan Sumption is right, then I cannot understand the argument for the fast tracking of Jonathan Sumption. Is he intending to step down?
2) If Jonathan Sumption is wrong then why don’t we just ignore him and do the opposite of what he suggests?

He’s just one human being, airing his views. We might all (I know I do daily) pine for the days when judges (and barristers) did not talk to the press, but in our modern world he is entitled to his view. What’s important is working out whether he is right or wrong and then doing something about it and I think part of that is having a mainstream conversation (i.e. not a bunch of reactionary lefties being outraged together on twitter, instead a genuine freedom to discuss these issues within the Inns, the judiciary, the bar associations and with whatever smoke filled room currently appoints judges).

In my view he is wrong. I see lots of women lawyers who are really exceptional. Some of those are aged 50 to 70 and are thus in the bracket I might normally want to appoint to either the Supreme Court or the CoA. As I know with full confidence that these women exist, how can I turn around and try to say that it is ok to fast track Jonathan Sumption, but not ok to fast track them?

I might have been persuaded by an argument that fast tracking anyone is a bad idea (particularly for the constitution), but he let said cat out of said bag. Now it is running freely, surely we could do some good with it and fast track some specific (i.e. not just a quota) brilliant female lawyers to high judicial office.

Why don’t we start with one, wait 18 months and when the sky hasn’t fallen in we can breath a sigh of relief and appoint another. The fact that I have a top five wish list is I think telling of just how many exceptional female candidates there would be for this process.

(20)(10)

Anonymous

I don’t see him arguing against fast tracking per se, just against positive discrimination.

(11)(1)

Not Amused

Then his views are out dated. Perhaps when the percentages of women lawyers were much much smaller (i.e. 50 years ago), an argument that advancing them would be doing so on a positive discrimination basis rather than a merit basis had legs.

Nowadays there are so many exceptional female lawyers that the idea you could not find one to fast track (Sumption like) to the higher courts is risible.

(16)(6)

Anonymous

Am I the only one intrigued by Not Amused’s comment regarding a ‘Top 5 wish list’? Name names!

(6)(1)

Anonymous

Pretty sure he was fast tracked because he is brilliant. I don’t see any others, men or women, (in recent times) getting the same treatment, and I assume that this is because they are brilliant. Wasn’t Bingham ridiculously young too when he got moved up?

More importantly, Sumption is correct – just because the system is crap does NOT mean things will improve because you stick a load of women in the HC or CoA. In fact, it will make things even worse because they aren’t prepared for that role. And I’m sure it goes without saying but just in case – if the issue was a lack of men, the same thing would happen if they were elevated without the proper training etc.

We need a proper plan to increase the nos of women in the profession but what we don’t want is a rushed job. I think many women and many feminists will agree – having women in ‘high office’ (to steal an American phrase) who are incompetent is a lot WORSE than having no women at all.

(4)(1)

Not Amused

Sumption was elevated without proper training. He is not, as you assert, brilliant. Or rather, perhaps, it is, fairer to say that he is no better than his colleagues. He does make mistakes.

If the decision was right in petrodel (a pretty big if) I can promise you that it was nonetheless a rookie error to spend so little time on the key point and instead to waffle off.

When he dissents, do you propose that the rest of the court is wrong?

He may well be special. There are women lawyers as special as him. No new law was made to artificially advance him. No new laws are needed now. We should fast track a female lawyer of equal calibre – they exist. Special is not unique.

(3)(2)

Charlotte Proudfoot

Lord Sumption is an enemy of women, perpetuating the dogma of eroticisation, fetishisation, objectification, banterisation, rasterbation, and biastophilia in the male dominated workplace.

(15)(8)

Bob Spunkhouse

Quick, turn on the Bat Signal, call in Ms Proudman! Please save us, Charlotte!

(13)(0)

sosr

Fast-tracked judge complains about fast-tracking of judges.

(20)(5)

Anonymous

I perceive a difference between fast-tracking people because they’re brilliant and fast-tracking people because they’re women.

Could just be me.

(7)(2)

Boh Dear

The real issue is not that in looking at quotas and fast-tracking measures etc. we are ignoring the underlying problems why woman (and minorities) are under represented in the first place. We should do all we can to ensure equality of opportunity for the disadvantaged but in using shortcuts we simply perpetuate the problem without addressing the root cause.

We face the same issue with knee-jerk, crowd-pleasing, vote-winning laws. We then consider many social issues in society resolved simply because we have criminalised them rather than seeking to educate the public and creating a social stigma around the behaviour in question. Instead of focusing on a permanent change in society as our end goal we settle for a (unnecessary) change in the law. In these instances there is perhaps less demand (as satiating as it may be when enacted) for these laws to be put in place and a strong argument for following a long-term approach to address such issues resulting in a permanent change to society rather than a, potentially temporary, change to our legislature book.

(9)(0)

Boh Dear

EDIT: “The real issue is that in…”

(1)(1)

Anonymous

Why don’t we try just giving out positions in pairs? Don’t start a recruitment round until you need two positions filled. Allow men to apply for one and women the other. Over a period of time, you are eventually guaranteed to get a 50-50 spread.

(1)(3)

Quo Vadis

Fast forward a few years. The Supreme Court has been a man down for a while, but thankfully another justice has retired and the Court looks to recruit another. They find two great women, and two less great men. Or vice versa. Now, they can’t recruit the people best suited for the role – they have to recruit one man and one woman. How anyone can think this is a good idea is beyond me.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

You only have to substitute “men” for “women” in Sumption’s ruminations to see how ridiculous they are.

(1)(0)

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