The Charlotte Proudman generation backs quotas, but Lord Justice Leveson says they are ‘demeaning’

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By Katie King on

Top judge wades into gender diversity row


Sir Brian Leveson has put his stake in the legal profession sexism debate, dismissing workplace quotas as the “antithesis of appointment on merit”.

Speaking at a recent lecture, the president of the Queen’s Bench Division described the imposition of compulsory targets to boost diversity — an idea backed by sexism row junior barrister Charlotte Proudman — as “demeaning whether to women or those from minority ethnic groups”. He added:

Making allowance for career breaks or for the consequences of caring responsibilities is one thing [but creating a] principle of appointment [to boost diversity] will inevitably lead to the inference that those appointments are most decidedly not based on merit alone.

Leveson made these comments at the ‘Justice for the 21st century’ in the Isle of Man. His lengthy speech explored a number of constitutional developments in the British legal system — the most topical being the appointment of female judges.

Perhaps illustrating a generational divide in attitudes to quotas, high profile rookie human rights barrister Charlotte Proudman has publicly pushed for the introduction of workplace quotas, describing them as the “only” way to challenge male privilege.

And it seems the 27 year-old has the support of young women. Research conducted in 2012 by the Law Society’s Women Lawyers Division shows that younger delegates favoured quotas as a means of introducing more females into positions of power. The same research demonstrated that “more established” women rejected the idea of quotas.

But there is some support for quotas among more senior legal professionals, with LSE law academic Nicola Lacey today backing quotas “in the context of failure of existing policies effectively to tackle the over-representation of men in the upper echelons of the legal profession”. Speaking to the Law Society Gazette, she said it was time for extreme action to boost gender equality in the legal profession, explaining:

We believe that anyone seriously committed to the gender injustice and equality must be prepared to consider a more radical approach.

Read Lord Justice Leveson’s speech in full below: