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Female barristers granted access to top London court’s male-only robing room

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Gender should play no part in the role or status of an advocate, says Southwark judge

The all-male robing room at Southwark Crown Court has opened its doors to female advocates for the first time following a judicial intervention.

Until recently, Southwark — which handles some of London’s most serious financial crime trials — had three robing rooms in the 1980s building, a large men-only one and two smaller ones just for women.

For those unfamiliar with the somewhat archaic terminology, robing rooms are essentially areas housed within a court building that allow barristers to change into their wig and gown, discuss cases and hide from troublesome clients.

Now, thanks to senior circuit judge Deborah Taylor, Southwark’s testosterone-filled recreation room is no more. Explaining the rationale behind the decision, she told the Evening Standard:

Firstly, the male robing room had better facilities including tables and chairs for working. It was unfair to the female barristers to be in cramped rooms. Secondly, there are now far more female barristers involved in fraud cases. Not being in the same robing room meant that they were sometimes excluded from conversations prior to court which took place between the male barristers. Some said that as a result agreements were made before they were consulted.

Her Honour Judge Taylor, who was appointed a senior circuit judge to the South London criminal court back in April, continued:

[It] reinforces that gender should play no part in the role or status of a barrister.

Putting gender equality to one side, the decision — which was formally implemented earlier this summer — triggered suppressed memories for 5KBW’s criminal silk Sarah Forshaw.

Other lawyers appeared to take issue with the Standard referring to the historic spaces as “locker rooms”.

It has also been in such robing rooms that a number of weird and wonderful objects have been discovered and reported on Legal Cheek. These include, among other items, a Scalextric, two Gameboy consoles (with marketing stand), a car wheel and a drunk octopus.

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