Ex-Appeal judge reveals she was once rejected by chambers over fear male barristers would ‘make passes’ at her

By on

Tenants’ wives wouldn’t like it, Dame Elizabeth Gloster told

Dame Elizabeth Gloster QC

A former Court of Appeal judge has revealed she was once given the knock-back from a chambers over concerns that male barristers would “make passes” at her.

Speaking in a video interview with the First 100 Years project, a celebratory campaign to mark the year when women could first practise law, Dame Elizabeth Gloster QC reflects candidly on the astonishing levels of sexism she encountered as she took her first tentative steps towards a career at the bar in the seventies.

In one of the more eye-catching segments, the Cambridge-educated commercial law expert explains how she was turned down for tenancy by one unnamed set because they didn’t take on women. This despite the fact she’d successfully completed pupillage and had built up a strong practice.

When she questioned chambers’ decision not to take her on, Gloster, who in 2010 became the first female judge in charge of the Commercial Court, was told: “The wives of members of chambers wouldn’t like it… in case their husbands make passes at you or you seduce them.”

The 2020 Legal Cheek Chambers Most List

Naturally, this didn’t go down well with Gloster. “Well as I’d been absolutely meticulous about not succumbing to any advance made, and you know that’s what they did, and I thought that was rather unfair — and I said so,” she tells viewers in the ten-minute long clip.

Elsewhere, Gloster reveals she opted for a career in law as it played to her strengths, English and Latin, and opted to wear a pair of what she describes as “very smart”, knee-high, white PVC boots to her first pupillage interview — much to the disapproval of her mother. She eventually secured tenancy after completing four pupillages over a three-year period.

Watch the interview in full below:

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter



I just find it sad that she chose to focus on something negative about men instead of concentrating on the positive contributions made by women to the legal profession.



You clearly haven’t watched the full interview



I haven’t, and so what? Are you saying she didn’t say it?


Not Alan

As a lawyer you need to notice when things are taken out of context. Here it is clearly not Dame Gloster’s fault but the failure of LC / Tom that they have highlighted the most contentious bit in the interview without putting much emphasis on the parts about the contributions made by women to the legal profession.



As a lawyer you should have made your point clearly in the first place. Still unfortunate that she chose to say it though in an interview highlighting womens’ achievements.

Archibald Pomp O'City

“Are you saying she didn’t say it?”

He’s saying that you don’t know whether your claim that she FOCUSED on negative topics about men is correct. He’s not denying she said it, possibly in passing. Focus, you dimwitted buffoon.



So why didn’t he say so in the first place? That’s the point.

You’re the one who’s unfocussed – lay off the booze!

Female barrister

Personally I find it inspiring that she has been so successful despite the sexism she faced. It makes her achievements all the more impressive.



Just seems a strange context to bring it up in though. Even if true, it was only one instance and didn’t impact her career, so it’s not really an impressive triumph over adversity. In the same way that while its highly likely that a lot of men helped her in her career that doesn’t necessarily lessen her achievements.

Not sure its really inspirational since the allegations relate events which allegedly happened over 40 years ago.

What would be more interesting would be whether she was any good as a judge.


IndyRef 2020 #VoteYes #VoteYes2020

Of for god sake it was an interview about women and being a woman at the bar, and the past 100 years. The whole point is not just looking at contributions now but also how things have moved on and developed. It’s a shame that’s all some people took away from her interview.



Exactly, sad to bring up something like this during a celebratory campaign. Sad but inevitable result that people will take away the fact that a negative story about men was told rather than something positive about the contribution of women to the legal profession.



Wow how far women have come! More still needs to change especially at the Bar. Thankfully, key stakeholders are aware and are actively changing things



I think its important to ensure equality for all and not just promote one gender. A lot still needs to be done to help men progress too. Thankfully most people feel the same way.



Couldn’t agree more!


Bobby Davro

I’m really happy that posh privately educated white women get a crack at world domination also. Imposter syndrome, when rich white girls feel like things aren’t being handed to them on a plate enough, is something we need to really tackle. It’s really not fair that only posh Old Etonians get to run things.



Thank you. Whilst I cringe as I make this into some sort of twisted competition, Lady Liz would have had a far better crack at the whip in her day than, say, a similarly-qualified, similarly proficient person from the lower classes or a BME. She might be a woman, but she’s white and went to a private boarding school, and therefore from money – the latter of those attributes making entry to the Bar much easier, especially in those days.



Yes, don’t forget to add how marrying an older commercial silk (Stanley Brodie QC, Blackstone Chambers) and then a High Court Judge (Sir Oliver Popplewell) also must open many doors at the commercial bar ….



Rejected in case men make passes at you? Weird flex, but alright.



They also said it was in case she tried to seduce them, the claim says.



So tired of SUCCESSFUL old barristers constantly reminding us they were women back in the 70s. We don’t live in that world anymore and I’m more sad for the female applicants that didn’t make it in the end.



Agreed. And also for the male applicants who didn’t make it.



What about Lord Harley’s conviction?

You still have published about it.


90 issues but part 36 ain't one

She seems to have done alright, though, hasn’t she?



You get a cookie for the name.


Bas Ellis

As a barrister she was a class act and an immense talent. A pleasure to be against when I was in Chambers. Irrespective of her gender she served our profession with great distinction as barrister and later on the Judiciary. Good fun also.



Agreed – any appraisal of her abilities as a barrister or judge should focus on her performance in the role and not on her gender or the privileges which gave her the opportunities which others wouldn’t have had. That’s why it’s sad that the speech didn’t focus more on positive achievements of women in the law.



Are you aware of the word “focus”?



Yes – did it take you a day to think of that?

Do try and reply in the right place and at the right time.



Breaking news: statements and actions allowed and socially acceptable in the old days now frowned upon.


Comments are closed.

Related Stories