RICHARD ATKINS QC, Chair of the Bar (2019)
Happy New Year, welcome to my first blog for Bar Talk as 2019 Chair of the Bar. As I suspect you know, 2019 is the 100th anniversary of the enactment of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919. This paved the way for the first woman, Helena Normanton, to be admitted to the Middle Temple in December of that year. She was called to the Bar in 1922 and took silk in 1949.
100 years seems like a long time ago, but it was brought home to me recently just how shocking it is that women were only considered to be equal citizens as few as 100 years ago when I learned that it was not until 1945 that the first woman, Sybil Campbell, was appointed to a judicial post, as a Metropolitan Stipendiary Magistrate. 1945 was only 21 years before I was born and now that I am rapidly approaching 53, 21 years seems a remarkably short period of time!
Much has, of course, happened since then and progress has been made. The number of women entering the profession now outnumbers men. We now have more female judges and this extends through the High Court, Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court. Last year saw the first sitting of the Supreme Court in which the majority of the panel was female. But much still needs to be done as women remain under-represented amongst the ranks of Queen's Counsel and the judiciary.
And it is not just the proportion of women at the Bar that is a concern. If we are to be a truly inclusive profession we must do all that we can to ensure that regardless of sex or race (or any other characteristic), we not only attract the brightest people to the Bar, but we retain them. As Leader of the Midland Circuit, I put in motion the setting up of a Women's Forum having shamelessly cribbed from the Western Circuit the excellent model of their scheme set up by Kate Brunner QC. The Midland Circuit Women's Forum is now being run very successfully by Sophie Garner and Esther Gamble and others. I hope that the other Circuits will consider setting up similar schemes too.
2019 provides an opportunity to focus on the next 100 years, looking at what we can all do - men and women alike - to challenge systemic disadvantage that those who are under-represented within the profession can face. This anniversary should remind us all that this profession needs talented barristers from all backgrounds if, facing the challenges it does, it is to survive and to thrive.
The Bar Council Equality & Diversity and Social Mobility committee and team are there to help. They have a wealth of information and ideas - if you have an idea, contact them, and they will help. Amanda Pinto QC (our new Vice Chair) and I - as well as the wider Bar Council team - look forward to working with all of you to promote inclusion, to protect the progress we have made to date and to set ourselves up to make more progress in the future.
AMANDA PINTO QC, Vice-Chair of the Bar (2019)
This year I am delighted to be the third woman in eight years to be Vice- Chair of the Bar and, especially so during the centenary year for women at the Bar. Looking forward, we have much to celebrate but we are not complacent. It took almost 80 years after the first female barrister was admitted to my Inn, Middle Temple, in December 1919, for our profession to be led by the first female Chair of the Bar, Heather Hallett QC (now a Lady Justice of Appeal). Happily, in recent times, our progress has gathered momentum: women now make up over half of entrants to the Bar and, with the proportion of female QCs growing (albeit slowly), as seen today in the latest QC appointments, our profession is more representative of the society we serve.
The Bar Council continues to lead and support that mission in practical terms, whether by pushing the Sitting Hours Protocol to help all barristers (especially those with caring responsibilities) maintain and develop a full practice, or by promulgating equality and diversity and anti-harassment training and model policies for chambers, or by speaking up for our members with the government and the judiciary. Richard and I are working together to promote and support parity in our profession -see, for example, Sky News' coverage on New Year's Day here and here. We both believe it is really important that everyone - regardless of gender or background - is involved in achieving this aim. We will succeed so much more quickly and enjoyably if we are all working together.
In this 100th edition of BarTalk in the 100th Year of women in the profession, you will find a bank of support and advice which we hope will be valuable to women seeking to reach the highest echelons of the Bar and to all those wishing to play their part in attaining a better and more representative profession. Throughout 2019, we will be celebrating the centenary with the Inns of Court, the First 100 Years Project and the Law Society, amongst others. We very much hope that every barrister, chambers Circuit and SBA will join us in endeavouring to ensure the Bar is an exciting and rewarding career for women and men in the next hundred years.