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Hale takes subtle swipe at Sumption over suggestion it will take 50 years to achieve gender equality across judiciary

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Outspoken ex-Supreme Court judge made controversial comments in 2015

Lady Hale appears to have taken a subtle swipe at her former bench mate Lord Sumption for his suggestion that it could take 50 years to achieve gender equality in the judiciary.

In a recent Q&A with Legal Action Group, an independent charity promoting access to justice for all members of society, the brooch wearing Baroness was asked when she thought true diversity within the judiciary would be reached.

“There has been great progress over the last two decades, since the powers-that-be have begun to take it seriously,” Hale said. “When I started judging, for example, the idea that a judge might be a wheelchair user was unthinkable. That has definitely changed. And the diversity statistics among the tribunals judiciary nearly mirror the diversity statistics among the working population of the same age, which is a huge achievement.”

The Supreme Court president then appeared to take a gentle shot at Sumption, who in an interview with the Evening Standard in 2015 (and while still himself a Supreme Court justice) predicted that it would take 50 years for gender equality on the bench to be achieved.

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Hale continued:

“But we still have quite a long way to go among the courts judiciary, especially in ethnic diversity, so I’m not going to make a prediction — except to say that at current rates of progress it should take less than the 50 years which have sometimes been predicted.”

Elsewhere in the now infamous interview, ex-barrister Sumption argued that a rush to gender equality “could have appalling consequences for justice” and that it was “rubbish” to say that the law was run by an “old boys’ network”.

His comments attracted a wave of criticism on social media, with Blackstone Chambers barrister Dinah Rose QC tweeting at the time that Sumption “knows nothing about lives of women at the bar”.

Elsewhere, Mukul Chawla QC wrote: “Here is an example of a judge with (apparently) brain power but absolutely no judgement or wisdom…”, while barrister Adam Wagner quipped: “Lord Sumption also said he thought Charlotte Proudman looked ‘stunning’ in her LinkedIn pic #joke #justabout”.

Statistics released earlier this year show that 32% of judges in the courts and 46% of tribunal judges were women — an uptick of six and three percentage points respectively over the past four years. Women also accounted for 23% of judges in the Court of Appeal and 27% in the High Court.

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24 Comments

Anonymous

“Gender equality” needs to take into account imbalance in the higher end of the professions given so many woman choose to leave to look after children or move to other roles following motherhood. 50% is not a reasonable number.

Martin Routh

There’s another way of looking at it. The far more regular hours and potential for flexible working that a judicial career can provide when compared with the unpredictability of practice, could mean that those with young families or other caring responsibilities may find the bench a realistic way of continuing with their legal career when they might otherwise have had to abandon it. I’m not suggesting it’s a magic bullet or perfect in any way, but done right, it could be an opportunity for people to build an alternative career path.

Are you not Entertained

Martin Routh makes a fair point. As a practitioner of 25 years, I really do not care whether or not the Judiciary is diverse. I care that whatever Tribunal I appear before was selected on merit. Judicial Appointments at the Tribunal level are more or less 50 / 50. Unsurprising as this is a level, most apply in their 30s or 40s. At the higher level its about 65 / 35 men to women. Again, unsurprising as that factors in the women being statistically more likely than average to have dropped out and not be in the statistical pool.

I really do not give a shit. Last week I was before a 38 year old white female Judge with kids. She gave the most straight down the line summing up, got the law correct and stayed out of the arena. My client was potted and weighed off with 3 years. I don’t care about her age, gender or background. I could have got the same direction and the same result from a white male, 60 year old Oxbridge public school graduate. My client didn’t care either as he felt he had a fair trial before her, even though the Jury didn’t agree with him (or me). The Jury didn’t care whether they were being given the correct directions from a 38 year old women or a 60 year old bloke.

Who gives a shit what the percentages are. If Judges are being appointed on merit, we have a good system. If they are not, we don’t. Looks like we kinda do.

Eurolawyer

Be careful what you wish for. In France and Germany, they have a separate career track for the judiciary, starting on qualification, or soon thereafter, so you start as a thirtysomething in a small claims court and hope to rise to the court of appeal by your fifties. The problem is, it is seen as the Mommy track for lawyers who can’t hack it and the presitge (and salaries) of the judiciary suffer accordingly. Is that what people really want?

The widespread adoption of English law for contracts that have no link with the UK and England’s reputation as a peerless forum for dispassionate dispute resolution arose not becasue the parties concerend were wowed by the commitment of the English legal system to diversity, but because parties trusted the system.

Anonymous

I’d prefer professional judges rather than what we have here.

Anonymous

Fair enough for the judiciary, which I appreciate was the context of the story. We are too prissy over who gets into that. But the point is a fair one for other areas in which 50% targets are churned out, such as partnerships and silk.

Anon

The comments on this article are going to be a dumpster fire.

Anon

Or not. LC takes a pretty hard line on moderation these days.

Anonymous

The sad thing is they don’t realise it will kill this site, as most people just check in for the banter in the comments, not the mediocre articles.

Martin Routh

Absolutely. This.

Anon

‘Mediocre’ is pretty generous in a lot of cases. This site used to be half decent back in the day…

Alex

So. Much. Wrongthink.

Must. Purge. Wrongthink.

JDP

{warming hands over dumpster fire}

I’ve been unemployed since the moderators stepped up. My glory days are behind me now.

Anonymous

What’s the proportion of female to male magistrates?

Truth

1:100

Anonymous

What’s your source?

Anon

Tried to post a comment. LC too retared to accept it. Not really bothered by diversity. Bothered by the level of stupidity. LC posts a topic to comment on. LC can’t be bothered sorting it’s IT out to allow responses. Kinda like the justice system. Had a very fair and sensible trial before a 38 year old female Judge last week. Didn’t win. But she was straight down the line in her summing up. Don’t care about the diversity of the Bench. Do care that it took 3 years to go from 1st APP to Trial. Are you not entertained?

Retired Corbynista

Anyone wanna start a new legal gossip website? No real news (we’ll nick that from LC and ROF), but the selling point would be an unmoderated comments section. Maybe we’ll even get KK on board.

Anonymous

Anything fun puts you at risk of being hauled in front of the thought police at the SRA.

The Hound

F**k the SRA

Anonymous

Only if it is clearly sober, has consented in writing, twice, and does not regret it the morning because of the boyfriend it never mentioned at the time.

Australian barrister

Rape jokes? Really? Is that the best you have after all that education?

Anonymous

The joke was about non-rape.

(http://) JohnAllman.UK

What does the phrase “gender equality across the judiciary” mean? What if the attempt to procure that outcome in one sense impedes the achievement of that outcome in another sense? (It is worrying that such obvious questions seem simply not to have occurred to such senior members of the judiciary. No wonder I have found going to court so like gambling, and so unlike any rational, skillful activity aimed at procuring a predictable outcome by following rules. And no wonder the average lawyer fails in 50% of the tasks he takes on that get as far as trial.)

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