More must be done to encourage women to stay at the bar and apply for silk and judicial office, according to a panel of eminent women in the profession.
The panel, comprising Family Division judge Mrs Justice Theis, Bar Standards Board chair Lady Deech and barristers Jane McNeill QC and Nirmal Shant QC, was divided on whether a glass ceiling still exists - but agreed that more needed to be done to support women.
McNeill said that women account for one of 10 Supreme Court judges, three of 39 Court of Appeal judges, one of 15 Commercial Court judges, one of 10 Chancery Division judges, and 11% of those appointed QC in 2010.
She said: ‘There are women so outstanding even a ceiling of reinforced concrete would not prevent their rise,’ but for others obstacles remain.
Lessons could be learned from the culture of the Family Division, she said, where seven of the 19 judges are female, and which encourages women coming back into practice after having children.
In addition, she said women could be helped by better training on when and how to apply for silk and judicial office, together with more mentoring. Shant said it was not just the day-to-day hurdles of combining work and family life that need to be addressed, but a change of ‘attitude and spirit’. She urged women to be more demanding and pushy, rather than accept stereotypical limitations put on them by clerks, solicitors and others.
Deech said childcare facilities would help, and criticised the Inns of Court for failing to find space for a nursery. Deech said the problems for some women at the bar would be made worse by cuts to legal aid and said it was ‘unacceptable’ to apply cuts that would disproportionately affect women.