Countries worldwide should adopt a ‘gender-oriented approach’ to ensure women have the same rights and opportunities as men to hold high judicial office, the UN’s human rights council special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers told the Gazette this week.

Gabriela Knaul (pictured), in London as a guest of the Law Society’s international division for Monday’s opening of the legal year, said ‘institutionalised gender discrimination’ kept women, who in some countries make up more than half of all entry-level lawyers, largely under-represented on the bench. The solution, she said, is a ‘gender perspective’ that will make states take measures to redress the balance.

Knaul said many countries, including those most overtly discriminatory towards women, have international and constitutional obligations to maintain an independent judiciary in which women lawyers are fairly represented.

She said: ‘Our obligation is to call attention to their obligations and make sure women are not ruled out of the rule of law. The most important principle is always human dignity – a woman’s rights as a human being.’

She added that although there was no ‘magic and unique recipe’ for developing a strong judicial system, the ‘values that inspire the rule of law are universal and… perfectly consistent with all moral or religious beliefs.’