‘We’ve done the sums’
Gender parity amongst judges in England and Wales should be achieved by 2033, the president of the Supreme Court predicted over the weekend — but the future of the higher courts “doesn’t look so rosy”.
Speaking at the Bar Council’s annual conference in London on Saturday, Lady Hale dismissed suggestions it would take 50 years for gender equality on the bench to be realised. Hale, who steps down from her presidential post in January, told the audience that “we’ve done the sums” and, according to the current rate of change, it will only be “14 years to get to parity”.
One such 50-year prediction was made by Hale’s former bench buddy Lord Sumption. Speaking in an interview in 2015, the outspoken former judge also claimed 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”.
But Hale did acknowledge that female representation across the higher courts was less “rosy”. “It’s obvious that we still have a long way to go with women in the law both in the profession and the judiciary”, she said.
Recent figures show that 32% of judges in the courts and 46% of tribunal judges were women — a rise of six and three percentage points respectively over the past four years. Meanwhile, women accounted for 23% of judges in the Court of Appeal and 27% in the High Court.
Away from the judiciary, the 74-year-old Baroness said there has been slow progress in women taking silk. “The reason women are not taking silk [becoming a QC] is that they are not applying”, Hale told the audience. “They are reluctant — or a more worrying reason is that they are not getting the kind of work that will qualify them to apply.”