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Sexism from judges exaggerated, says Lord Chief Justice

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Small number of examples give ‘false impression’

Sexual harassment and bullying of female barristers by members of the judiciary is exaggerated, the Lord Chief Justice (LCJ) has suggested.

Giving evidence at the Lords Constitution Committee yesterday, Lord Burnett, the head of the judiciary of England and Wales, was asked about a speech he delivered earlier this year, in which he said that inappropriate conduct towards women advocates required “further investigation and consideration, both by the professions and the judiciary”.

Burnett’s speech came just days after Chris Henley QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA), published a series of anonymised stories about sexism, including several incidents in which male judges made disparaging comments to female barristers in court.

On this, Burnett told the Committee:

“We hunted high and low to try and identify the examples that were being referred to and it turned out to be a handful. I fear that there was a phenomenon in play which is all too familiar to politicians that a tiny few examples get repeated time and time and time again and an impression gets created which is false.”

The 61-year-old former barrister stressed that judges should “not display behaviour which is unreasonably putting pressure on people”, adding that concerns about on-bench behaviour can be reported to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO).

Elsewhere during the session, the top judge lamented the demise of court reporting, which in turn has warped the general public’s view of the UK legal system. “A lot of it, alas, is still informed by TV and film drama, which is for the most part a terrible caricature,” Burnett said.

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18 Comments

Gerontion

Am glad someone has the balls to stand firm against the madness of a new orthodoxy that defines sexism (or racism) solely in terms of how a comment/action is perceived rather than the intention behind it. Genuine discrimination is virtually non-existent in British public life, and robust mechanisms exist to stamp it out where it arises.

Anonymous

Yes, but it’s unconscious bias that is the problem.

People are causing offence without intending or knowing it.

That’s what needs to be rooted out and stamped out!

Anonymous

The problem is that a lot of unconscious bias is on the part of the people complaining about remarks or behaviour. Their unconscious bias often leads them to take offence where none was intended or could reasonably be perceived to have occurred.

Even classifying behaviour as unconscious bias can be in itself an example of unconscious bias.

Anonymous

People need to stop being so over-sensitive. If I offend you, get over it.

Anonymous

Only if one accepts that we have the right not to be offended. I would argue that it is entirely right and proper that robust measures are in place to protect people from discrimination, abuse, assault or intimidation, but that we are not yet as a society so fragile as to require protection against being offended.

Anonymous

The difficulty here is getting a true reflection of the numbers.

Judges will say there are few issues because the number of formal complaints are low.

Counsel will say they don’t report because of the risk of ruining their career.

Some people will lie and jump on bandwagon which doesn’t help either.

Counsel should be able to report to head of chambers who in turn should meet with the head of the Court and discuss it with Counsel. The precise way in which this could happen would need some measures put in place.

Anonymous

Would also need disclosure of what the complaint was in any published data to ensure reasonableness.

Anonymous

Cue an outraged response from Proud(wo)man, Hardy et al. in 3…2…1…

Anonymous

Social media warriors need to have incredibly thin skin. Fans the flames of outrage and offense.

Anonymous

Well said! Too much moaning and not enough specifics from the moaners. Self-certifying surveys are bollocks but the Bar Council and BSB churn them out and then rely on the nonsense results nonsense surveys produce.

Anonymous

I think judges not being bothered to read bundles and familiarise themselves wit has the facts of the case is a much bigger issue.

And – being a male / father / paternal relative in the family court system is what true malign and insidious discrimination is. To be a father / male in the family court system is to be treated like utter shit by judges.

Anonymous

Not entirely. They read and rely on the CAFCASS report. Which will tend to discriminate against the father.

Anonymous

Well that further underlines the systemic discrimination against Fathers and men in the family court system – which most definitely includes CAFCASS and social services

Anonymous

Being a woman in the UK (where women are exalted) is not the same as being a woman in Saudi Arabia (where there is troubling inequality and lack of opportunity for work and education that transcends socio-economic status)

Women in the UK need to drop their “victim status” that they cynically cling to.

Anonymous

I don’t hear any women proclaiming victim status. I do however see an agenda being pushed in the many quarters of the press, including the legal press, and the BBC.

And no, I’m not an embittered Tory fossil with a Robertson’s jam fixation. I’m a young-ish leftie and a feminist.

Anonymous

Bunch of cunts.

Anonymous

Damn right. Three cheers for the Lord Chief.

Female Brief

There is no ‘false impression’ of sexist judges. As somebody who has been in practice at the criminal bar for 20 years can attest to, this is an entirely correct impression.
As a starting point, there are many excellent judges, who properly discharge their functions.
Then there are also some obnoxious judges who are equal-opportunity offenders – in that they are inclined to lash out and behave needlessly aggressively to whichever advocate happens to be standing in front of them. In front fo this class of judge, both male and female advocates will occasionally be at the receiving end of an unfair tongue-lashing.
And there there is another class of (usually male) judges, who find women advocates paricularly annoying – who invariably and disproportionately lash out at women advocates.
Nobody is claiming that the life of a woman advocate in the UK is analogous to the life of a Saudi woman (I certainly am not holding out for victim status – unless it comes with loyalty points), but to assert that there is no problem with sexist judges is to deny the truth.

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