News

EXCLUSIVE: Top judge’s daughter who’s now a judge herself fronts judicial diversity campaign

By on
67

The judiciary: where judges’ daughters, not just their sons, can make it to the top

The Judicial Office has used a High Court judge whose father was a Law Lord as one of the faces of a judicial diversity campaign.

Mrs Justice Steyn appears in social media videos answering questions about how she got into law and whether she faced obstacles in her career.

But while Steyn — one of relatively few women in the senior judiciary — may well have faced obstacles in her career, she comes from a rather privileged background in one sense: being the child of a judge. Her father, the late Lord Steyn, was a Law Lord (the old name for a Supreme Court justice) from 1995 to 2005.

Steyn appears on the official Judicial Office Instagram account in a video tagged #inclusion and #womeninlaw. The short clip, posted last week, features Steyn’s answer to the question “Did you have to overcome any obstacles to be a barrister or a judge?”. Steyn replies:

“Before I started my career I certainly had a perception of barristers as all fitting a particular mould — one that I knew I did not fit — and it took a little while for me to appreciate that there is no mould, I didn’t have to fit any existing mould or break one. In reality individual practices are incredibly diverse and suit people with so many different qualities and attributes”.

In a longer clip from the interview posted on Facebook, Steyn talks about how her interest in law was piqued by it requiring similar skills to history, which she studied at uni. Lord Steyn does get a mention there, although not by name or title: Steyn recalls that when she considered staying on in academia, “I had a chat with my father about it [and] he very gently suggested that it was about time I got a job”.

Steyn is, obviously, her own person and highly qualified — and not hiding anything about her background. In a previous interview with Counsel magazine about what had inspired her to become a barrister, the then-QC said “I think it would be hard not to be inspired by my father”.

Lord Steyn, originally from South Africa, was an eminent Law Lord with a reputation as a liberal. He passed away in 2017.

Mrs Justice Steyn was born in South Africa but grew up in Kent, attending “local state schools”. She studied history at the University of Liverpool and the Graduate Diploma in Law at City University. A public law and human rights specialist at 11KBW, she took silk in 2014 and was appointed to the High Court in 2019. Of the 17 High Court appointments announced last year, Steyn was the only one not to have attended Oxford or Cambridge.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office told Legal Cheek:

“We try to feature judges from a wide range of backgrounds, regardless of who their parents might have been. She speaks in the interview about her experience as a woman at the bar and when she was appointed to the High Court she was notable for being the only non-Oxbridge graduate in that round of appointments.”

Sign up to the Legal Cheek Newsletter

67 Comments

Ghost

Nothing says diversity quite like the nepotism of being a Judge’s child

Anon

Unfair. You have no evidence that she secured her position because she was a judge’s child.

Brown

Fair. You have no evidence that she did NOT secure the position because she was a judge’s child!

Anon

So there is an assumption that judges’ children are the beneficiaries of nepotism?! That doesn’t seem fair. Which isn’t to say I think she is a good choice to front a judicial diversity campaign.

Nogbad the Bad

yes she does: the process is conducted by open application followed by interview and selection by the independent Judicial Appointments Commission.

George

Right…

Anonymous

Oh gosh, I remember her father, super chap. Loved the Garrick. Anyway, let’s put that aside and objectively assess this application…

Anonz

Loving that shade in the first line of the article

Michael

how is it any different to assuming female/BAME barristers are not more represented at the top (bench, silk, etc) solely because they are female/BAME – which is the gist of 50% of the stories on this website?

N

Logically, the fact that she didn’t feel a sense of fitting into a mould speaks of the fact that her status gives her entry where people without status would not be admitted.

Anon.

The fact that she has a BA in history at the University of Liverpool simply means that she would never get a tenancy at a decent set these days.

MA Cantab BCL Oxon LLM Harvard is probably the minimum

anonymous

Quite. And with those (distinctly average) academic credentials, even when she got pupillage, the contacts through her father clearly helped her.

Anon

And clearly, by building a successful practice at 11KBW, taking silk (which presumably you accept was on her own merit), and going to the High Court Bench, she demonstrates how ridiculous the Oxbridge requirement is.

It’s nothing more than poshos hiring in their own image, as the rest of us non-Oxbridge barristers have known for years.

Anon

Spot on

Anonymous

Her area of practice – common law, human rights – does not require the sort of alpha intellect needed for commercial and chancery work. Which explains why, as a Liverpool graduate, she was able to succeed.

Anon

Spot on.

Anonymous

It mainly needs either a willingness to live in a crap part of London or to be the offspring of a successful silk.

Jen

I was assured that all members of a certain Northern Superset who were the children of members or former members (some of whom went on the bench) were there entirely on their own merits and in fact it was harder for them to get in because they had to prove they really were worthy.

I wouldn’t exchange places with them.

Anonymous

The best comment in the history of LC right here XD Bravo!

Narrator

It wasn’t the best comment though

Anon

Exchange places – I see what you did there.

Fact Checker

Her father died in 2017 and she was appointed in 2019.

Now I know he was an influential judge, but even his influence, probably did not extend from the grave.

Anon

Well I guess she’s female and attended state school (although Kent has a grammar school system and many of these are better than private schools) and went to a redbrick rather than Oxbridge. But yeah, pretty sure having a dad who’s a Law Lord didn’t really hurt her career prospects.

Lord Bond

Mrs Justice Steyn’s suggestion and I paraphrase ‘ there’s no mould, not one that she fitted’ troubles me. From a BAME candidate’s perspective, it seems to me that there is a mould at the Bar, which predominantly relates to being a white male or female. Her Ladyship fits this mould. Certainly Cherie Blair, several years ago, mentioned that the diversity crisis at the Bar will not be remedied by recruiting posh white girls with backgrounds similar to their male contemporaries in Chambers. If you’re not posh or middle class, being white may be enough get you through. I don’t think the same can be said for BAME candidates.

It seems that there is a preference and a mould, where Chambers’ have taken on majority non BAME pupils in more than ten years. This is not a problem exclusive to London but take a look at Chambers in Birmingham and Manchester, both incredibly diverse Cities yet that diversity is not proportionately represented in Chambers there either. The recent BSB stats on BAME candidates attaining pupillage compared with white candidates is a point in note.

Tenant

You mention Birmingham, where I practice, and where I believe the Bar is pretty diverse. However, my own subjective experience is fairly irrelevant so lets look at numbers.

The BAME proportion of the population is about 14%. The BAME proportion of tenants in the bigger sets in Birmingham:

No5 – 16.5%
St Phils – 13%
St Ives – 12%

So somewhat unrepresentative. However, the more relevant number for people wishing to join the profession is the proportion of BAME pupils/tenants <5 years call.
This is because that is a better indicator of the Chambers' recruitment practices.
For that bracket, we have the following proportions:

No5 – 5/27 – 18.5%
St Phils – 3/17 – 18%
St Ives – 6/24 – 25%.

So make what you will of that simplistic analysis. For what its worth, in my view there certainly are many access issues at the Bar, although I think these are overwhelmingly socio-economic.

Lord Bond

I appreciate the time you have taken to write back back to me with statistics, but it seems to me that your analysis overlooks the following point. Firstly, the data sample provided for St Philips and No5 ignores the fact that both sets have bases in other Cities such as Leeds, Bristol and London. Therefore, any comparison with the net BAME population of Birmingham and intake of pupils is not an accurate analysis.

I wholeheartedly agree with you on the socio-economic point. It is true that white working lads are less likely to go on to University, as was the case in my state school. However, if you look at the stats: those from BAME background in the UK, many are the first in their family to go to University, have had free school meals and non-professional working parents. There is an argument, in my view, that if you are from BAME background, you also tick the socio economic box but are not given pupillage. The stats are different if you’re BAME and are middle class/ privately educated. Certainly what should matter is if you’re good enough. Many BAME candidates are. However, it seems that conscious / unconscious bias at the interview stage, predominantly by white interviewers, means that capable BAME candidates are not given pupillage. There seems to be no other plausible explanation for it, perhaps you can help me to understand why this is ?

I got out, yo.

Good luck. They will try to find every way possible to manipulate the statistics so that they don’t need to explain why excellent BAME candidates don’t get pupillage.

– ‘But BAME people get fewer Firsts, but please forget the fact I’ve been practicing at the Bar for the past 20 years with a 2.1 from the Russell Group!’

– ‘Yes, he was formally warned for sexual harassment against a BAME person, but of course racism doesn’t come into it. He will make an excellent pupil. We want the BEST at the commercial bar!’

– ‘We do let BAME people in – we’ve done so for the last six months – stop calling us racist!’

– ‘That report showed BAME people earn less across EVERY practice area, but please look at my dog on Twitter? I need Twitter ‘likes’ because I’m feeling sad?’

If you really are excellent and capable, do what I did and set up a business. No racism, no harassment and no excuses from anyone.

Some of barrister friends cry on the phone to me about how stressed they are. You couldn’t pay me enough for it.

Urgh

Why are you so hostile towards BAME barristers?

His Excellency The Honourable Most Righteous and Truthful Dr Alan Blacker The Lord Harley of Counsel, BA, LLB, ABC, BDSM, ABDL, DDLG (PBUH), Mozart of the Court Room, Order of the Rubber Pant

Does being an Irish Peer make me a BAME?

GSpo

Loving the “BDSM” oh and the fact that you put it after your name too!!

anonymouse

It seems evident to me that as a country, we’ve got ourselves into a right pickle. Far from true equality, we seem to be forever pigeon-holing and segregating people into various groups after which a litmus test is applied, merit appears to be way down the list I fear the inevitable result from this, will be one of more resentment, especially from those who have worked extremely hard to fulfil their ambitions but are seemingly cast aside by those who haven’t.

Anonymous

I pigeon-hole those who use overly long sentences.

anonymouse

Bravo! If that’s your only response, then that says more of you, than it does of me.

Tim

““We try to feature judges from a wide range of backgrounds, regardless of who their parents might have been.”

Nice to see they don’t discriminate against the children of Law Lords.

Dad QC with two barrister children

Seriously? Playing the victim when you grow up with parents with successful legal careers that quite literally show you how it’s done and can pay your bills?

You would be amazed how many barristers have parents that were barristers or solicitors and have numerous relatives still practicing.

No, they don’t get that pupillage handed to them, but they definitely know what to say at interview and what work experience is worth completing.

Anonymous

Good times to be a rich woman or rich BAME candidate. Good times. Social mobility means nothing. Tick box percentages mean everything.

FlourPour

There was a guy where I trained from Africa (he was of Indian heritage but BAME regardless) and the mostly white middle class firm loved to roll him out at recruitment events to show how diverse the firm was.

Then if you speak to him he has a posh accent from an expensive British boarding school with lax MLR checks, lives alone in a rented high rise flat in central London paid for by his parents and is actually the son of a senior banker in a relatively wealthy African nation.

I’ve said it before – Law does not have a racism problem, it has a class problem and white middle class women like this QC are just as guilty as the rest of us for benefitting from it. It pretends to be meritocratic and that you will succeed on legal talent alone but favours public school sensibilities and excludes anyone without a thorough knowledge of historic European ski season snow quality.

Anon

It’s worse at the Bar.

Did an internship with a nice and intelligent lad with the BCL from a state school who was on his third year of applications and desperately looking for part time law teaching work to help pay his rent.

The public school guy on my BPTC who received a formal warning for sexual harassment walked into a commercial pupillage with no BCL on his first try. I really think it helped going to the same public school as three of his Head of Chambers’ kids.

Charles

Quite. The legal profession needs to give more jobs to people called Ryan and Hannah.

Lord Bond

I agree to this point to an extent. Certainly the example you’ve used, demonstrates that there is a ‘mould’ that BAME candidate fitted, and therefore the firm took him on and rolled him out.

The reality for most BAME people living and born in the UK is that the majority are not Middle Class and therefore do not fit that specific ‘mould’ of candidate. These are the sons and daughters of restaurant workers, bus and taxi drivers, and the first people to go to university, Comparing the lived experience of the majority UK BAME population with a wealthy banker’s son is not a fair comparison.

Anonymous

Sadly, I knew many people with immigrant/refugee parents who beg/borrowed to get the funds for the GDL/BPTC and even with great academics (as their parents pushed for a good education), they were never invited for anywhere near as many pupillage interviews compared to the White middle class candidates on my course.

Many barristers will publicly wring their hands about the plight of Middle Eastern refugees on Twitter, but I don’t see any Yemenis or Syrians working in their chambers.

Wonder how many decades it’ll take before I do?

Chief Baba

Your comment is the problem with Middle Class liberalism and the paternalistic racist views of the metropolitan chattering classes. I say this as someone who is black and grew up middle class. Many black groups in the country have a higher proportion of professional parents than white people, I’m looking at you Nigerians and Ghanaians. Beyond that, the term BAME is nonsense because it definitely includes some of the richest groups in this country. Chinese (Hong Kong extraction particularly) and Indians (East African, Punjabis and Gujuratis from the motherland) are BAME and generally richer than the average white person.

But why don’t we see loads more Black and Asian barristers?

Be that as it may, many White barristers of the ‘chattering class’ would secretly not want a Nigerian or Gujarati as their pupil or son-in-law if they could help it.

I mean look at the disgusting comments from barristers here on LC?

Chief Baba

I agree that there is a problem at the Bar, but we shouldn’t conflate issues nor should we assume that every non-white person is poor. The term BAME is useless, it includes groups of people, who like I said earlier, are very privileged, and some of them are even more racist than your average white person to other groups. What seems clear as an outsider and having spoken to many junior barristers, you are really up against it if you don’t have someone to speak up for you to get pupillage. That can either be a relative, a family friend, or if you go to Oxbridge and really impress your tutors. The latter is the only way working class people can get in to the commercial/public law bar and that is not a fair route either. At my Redbrick those who wanted to get to the bar started sucking up early to alumni that were QCs and judges, sometimes based on knowing them, and unfortunately the working class kids didn’t seem to have the same access nor confidence to approach despite sometimes getting better grades.

chancery barrister (supervisor)

@ Chief Baba.

You speak much sense.

I don’t deny that you have heard junior barristers say xyz but it is not true. At my set, there would no no question of any family friend speaking up for you. I suspect that is true across most (if not all) of the entire bar.

The bar is one of the most meritorious industries. We literally hand over our own money to pay to train up one or two barristers a year. We give up huge amounts of billable hours moulding a pupil and introduce them to our own contacts. We want the best person. We want them to make money and project our brand. We don’t want second rate lawyers with contacts.

Chief Baba

I hear what you’re saying chancery barrister, and you must be one of the many good people trying to change things. I completely agree that things must be better than 10-20-30 years ago plus, even though I wasn’t around then. Only thing I will say is that some kids of top QCs/Judges do seem to squeeze into the top tier chamber with clearly lower academic credentials than their peers (a google search or linkedin search shows this). I’m not saying they are dunces, but there are far too many with a first class BA in History from Durham and a famous last name in chambers where every other tenant has Oxford prizes and Harvard on their CV. Also many seem to find their way to lower ranked chambers but are able to build a strong (commercial) practice due to their parents influence. The big problem is how to account for the fact that some feel so at ease in chambers due to having been there since they were in shorts/skirts. As I said above, I grew up state educated but middle class in the south east and I don’t think I set foot in any of the Inns until about age 25 during my litigation seat. I had heard of them but never walked in, and was blown away when I took a turn along Fleet Street. I have no doubt some northern chap from a poor background would be really intimidated going for a job there, and with a degree from Liverpool (which is still a fine Uni), he wouldn’t even dream he would get the job. Steyn had no such limitation on her ambition.

Julie Ingram

The entire justice system needs a complete overhaul and the swamp draining of these privileged, self entitled fools,,,who judge the rest of us by their out of touch standards!

Justice is rarely done in court and these people think they’re god’s and know better. Replace them with AI, introduce lie detectors and get rid of this failing, archaic system and those within.

Should also be illegal to allow the prosecution to invent things they claim are factual that you have to prove wrong. It prevents the truth coming out and it leaves us with a system where youre guilty before proven innocent. It’s like letting people off for inventing rape or any crime against another person so why is the prosecution legally allowed to do this and lie in a court of law? It’s demented. Not allowed in USA so why in the UK, are we that stupid and eager to get stitched up?

Basically, its a rich persons pomp and ceramony club, all about power, cash and delusions of grandeur – not justice. Oh and treating those from less well off background or a different political leaning with contempt.

Quite a depraved, power crazed hypocritical and unjust system with bigoted, politically charged judges, barristers, QCs, many of whom lack a moral compass and earn way too much money. You want diversity, I want justice so kill two birds and step aside from these institutions and let real people be the judge.

All the wrong people are being prosecuted. Justice is rarely delivered in these Alice in Wonderland trials. And the police have already been judge and jury before it gets to court anyway, judges just need to fill in the gaps for them or turn a blind eye.

These careers need opening up to students of all backgrounds, who know hard times and have at least connected with their conscience.

Look closer to home for the real criminals and throw the damn book at them instead of easy targets. Stop being lazy, look for the truth, the facts, cut the double standards and get over yourselves. Then you can feel proud about yourself and worthy of your post.

Until them I have no faith in the UK justice system. It’s corrupt and not fit for purpose.

Hunny B

U ok, hun?

Attila

NO!

I’M NOT OK!!!!!

Percival Diplock-Templeman

I do not see the issue here.

Anon

“Before I started my career I certainly had a perception of barristers as all fitting a particular mould — one that I knew I did not fit — and it took a little while for me to appreciate that there is no mould, I didn’t have to fit any existing mould or break one. In reality individual practices are incredibly diverse and suit people with so many different qualities and attributes”.

lol

I wonder how you gained that “perception” of what barristers were like?

Anon

It isn’t true that there are relatively few women in the senior judiciary.

Anonymous

Next month, the son of a mere Court of Appeal judge will head up the Social Mobility drive, explaining what it was like to struggle by with such limitations.

Anonymous

The fact she witters on about the challenges she faced entering the profession with her massive social capital shows why she is entirely ill-suited to the job. And however selected her should go too.

Anon

Absolutely. She shows a massive lack of judgment – which is worrying for a judge.

Scep Tick

The concern is not about her ability; as Peter Cook says, the exams are noted for their rigour.

The concern is that for the average bod coming out of the University of Liverpool, a career as a judge is a non-starter. Because to maximize your advantage you need to be a barrister. Which is almost impossible, given how difficult it is to get pupillage and then survive on it.

Unless you have a very close connection with the Bar that can ease you in.

The concern is therefore how many brilliantly able people are not becoming judges because they may have better results – but don’t have the right social connections.

Scouser of Counsel

Plenty of Liverpool grads on the bench.

It’s a respectable red-brick.

Anonymous

“Respectable red-brick” is an oxymoron.

Scouser of Counsel

Nah.

A spotty twat, like you probably are, is an oxy moron.

George

You obviously don’t understand what the word oxymoron means.

Pooler

There’s still plenty of Liverpool grads on the bench though.

Perhaps you could either concede gracefully or argue otherwise?

True

Circuit and District Bench, yes. They are not bright enough for the High Court Bench.

Martin

“public law and human rights specialist” – says it all really

Anonymous

Easier path to go down if daddy was a loaded silk.

Anon

How very 11KBW. I don’t know Mrs Justice Steyn but as a set they are very stuck up their own aris and not entirely connected with the views and opinions of the common man.

Legal Mind.

@chief baba you showed great insight It is the BPP Pupillage fair today and I will be there as an outsider looking in and wanting to get into the profession and reading some all of the comments here is what I deduce so far

Being Black is an issue even to the so called custodians of Justice

There is no equity in the Legal profession

You need more than just talent to get to the dinners

Who you know really matters more than any other consideration

Having a criminal conviction is not necessarily a barrier if you know someone

The Legal profession especially at the Bench level is essentially an upper middle class attainment

Cambridge and Oxford is still holy grail

If all of the above are true and I stand to be corrected on some of the assertions why should an outsider who has a legal mind bother.

Chancery Badger

Did not Lord Mance’s wife, Lady Justice Arden, replace him in the UKSC that’s a fine and recent example of openness

Join the conversation