Lady Hale stars alongside Mock the Week comedian Hugh Dennis in play about an Oxford law student

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By Katie King on

Sir Brian Leveson will be in it too

Two of the country’s top judges will be starring in the world premiere of a new play about an Oxford student who took the Law Society to court.

Deputy president of the Supreme Court Lady Hale and Sir Brian Leveson, of phone-hacking inquiry fame, will help chart the tale of Gwyneth Bebb — and it really is quite the tale.

Paving the way for women to be admitted to the legal profession, Bebb (pictured below) took legal action against the Law Society in 1913 while she was studying jurisprudence at Oxford University. She scored top marks among her class of 400 men but, thanks to university regulations, was not awarded a degree. She wanted to pursue a career as a solicitor, but was barred from doing so because she was a woman.

Gwyneth Bebb with her daughter Diana (1919)

Though Bebb, represented by law firm Withers, lost her case at first instance and then again in the Court of Appeal, she continued to campaign for women’s rights. In 1919, it was written into law that women could become lawyers.

One year later in 1920, Bebb began to study for her bar exams and was expected to be the first woman called to the bar in England. Unfortunately, she died in 1921 aged 31, just months after a difficult birth with her second daughter, who was born prematurely and died at two days old.

Bebb clearly had an interesting life, and now legal charity The Kalisher Trust is hoping to encapsulate this in what it’s describing as a “fascinating new play”.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour yesterday, playwright Alex Giles described the story as one of “twists and turns”. He feels Bebb has never received the recognition she deserves, and he thinks her story is one that “really needs a wider audience.”

Sitting alongside Giles on the radio show was the Court of Appeal’s Lady Justice Rafferty, who thinks the play is “illuminating”. Gender diversity and equality in legal practice is still an issue, and Rafferty — who was called to the bar in 1974 — recalled being “regularly patronised” throughout her career. She said:

If people were wasting their energy patronising me, I would not waste any of mine. I would focus exclusively on the case.

Hale and Leveson will be performing ‘The Disappearance of Miss Bebb’ alongside Call the Midwife actress Laura Main, regular Mock the Week panellist Hugh Dennis, and actor Ray Fearon, who recently starred in the brand new Beauty and the Beast remake. Leveson will be playing Mr Justice Joyce who heard the original case. Hale will be playing Chrystal MacMillan, the suffragist who organised the case.

The play will be performed on 2 April in Middle Temple Hall.

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