Disparity between men and women's progression in the barristers’ profession affects all of society
It is crucial to public trust in the justice system that the most senior and experienced among the Bar and on the bench are reflective of the society that they represent, says the Bar Council.
This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations hold particular resonance for the legal profession, falling as they do in the centenary year of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for the first women lawyers. This year’s IWD theme, #BalanceForBetter, speaks to the noticeable disparity between men and women’s progression to the highest echelons of the barristers’ profession. Promising equal entry rates to the Bar drop off towards the senior levels, revealing a reality where as of 2018 figures only 15.8% of QCs are female.
The significance of such a disparity reaches beyond the profession itself. Barristers play a key role at the forefront of the administration of justice and in upholding the rule of law, providing the best quality of service possible to clients both domestic and international. Many barristers also go on to become judges, and it is crucial to public trust in the justice system - and to the reputation of our legal system more widely -that the most senior and experienced among the Bar and on the bench are reflective of the society that they represent.
Progression as an issue is not unique to the Bar, or even the legal profession as a whole. While Britain has the highest proportion of female bosses of all major European economies, this still equates to barely one in 20 bosses being a woman. The nature of the largely self-employed Bar renders unique challenges for female barristers; aside from progression, retention, wellbeing and harassment have come up as issues recently, and all of this is also affected by the wider context of the external and financial pressures upon our justice system. The considerations are widespread, and the support needs to reflect that.
There is a danger of painting the entire picture with a discouraging brush, where it becomes hard to see how the landscape is going to change, let alone within the next 100 years. But we take a different view. We see behind the scenes, to the tireless work that drives progress in this area every single day. With this in mind, we’ve been putting our support behind all the voices contributing to a more equal future at the Bar. Some of them, we had never heard from before. Today, they will be revealed.
Throughout International Women’s Day, the Bar Council will be Tweeting quotes from groups and individuals that make up the current and future generation of the barristers’ profession, drawing together all the available support for women and for tackling the above-mentioned issues. The question we posed to them was ‘How do we shape the next 100 years?’ Their answers make for thought-provoking reading. We hope that they will give those both inside and outside the legal world pause for thought about whether some of these ideas can work in their own professions, and how long they are willing to wait to see real change in women’s prospects. We hope it won’t be another 100 years.
Follow @thebarcouncil on Twitter and use the hashtags #BalanceTheBar and #Next100Years to take part in our International Women’s Day conversation.