Recently there has been a lot of talk about #MeToo and feminism has been at the top of the agenda. Therefore, I felt that it was important to recognise and find out some facts about how far women have come since they were first allowed to become lawyers. It is vital that we remember our beginnings when we look to the future.
It is thanks to the Sex Disqualification (removal) Act 1919, which made it possible for women to qualify as barristers or solicitors, magistrates and jurors for the first time. Therefore, last year marked the 100th anniversary since women were allowed to become lawyers in the UK.
In 1913, women took the Law Society to the Court of Appeal over their refusal to allow women to sit the Law Society Finals examination. However, in a famous case, Bebb v The Law Society, the court of appeal upheld the Law Society’s decision! The judge, Mr Justice Joyce, ruled that women were not ‘persons’ within the meaning of the Solicitors Act 1843!
Maud Crofts, Carrie Morrison, Mary Pickup and Mary Sykes were the first women to pass their Law Society Finals in 1922 to become lawyers after the Act came into force in 1919. Carrie Morrison became the first woman to be admitted to the role of solicitors.
When Carrie Morrison and Maud Crofts graduated from Girton College, Cambridge with first class honours, the university refused to award them their degrees because they were women! Historically, although the women were allowed to study, attend lectures and sit exams, women could not hold degrees.
Dr. Ivy Williams was the first woman to be called to the English Bar, in May 1922. She never practised but she was the first woman to teach law at a British university. Helena Florence Normanton, KC was the first woman to practise as a barrister in England and the second woman to be called to the Bar of England and Wales. She was one of the first two women King’s Counsel at the English Bar. In 1991, Baroness Patricia Scotland of Asthal PC, QC became the first female black Queens Counsel.
There were only about 100 women who had qualified as solicitors by 1931. In 2017, women exceeded 50% of practicing certificate holders for the first time.
Dame Elizabeth Kathleen Lane, DBE was the first woman appointed as a judge in the County Court, and the first female High Court judge in England. Dame Rose Heilbron DBE was the first woman judge to sit at the Old Bailey. Lady Hale, who retired as the president of the Supreme Court judge a few weeks ago, was the first woman president of the Supreme Court.
Most recently, judicial diversity statistics published in April 2019 show that 32% of judges in the courts and 46% of tribunal judges are women. Around half of judges in the court aged under 50 are women. Women outnumber males among tribunal judges aged 40-49 (54% women) and 50-59 (52% women). While 23% of Judges in the Court of Appeal and 27% in the High Court are women and 42% of Upper Tribunal Judges are women.
Since 2014 there has been a 7-percentage point increase in women’s representation among judges in the courts. Of the 143 judges in the court that were appointed to a senior judicial role in 2018/19, 45% were women. More than half of magistrates are women (56%). All of this is testimony to how far women have come in the law. Previously we weren’t even recognised as being persons!