Baroness Chakrabarti, CBE
As a law student and young barrister, I learned early on that whilst bad laws can be an enormous obstacle to equality, there will be no social or individual justice without the Rule of Law. Oppressive Governments and Corporations use inequality of arms for abuses of power, but as the late great Tom Bingham argued in his modern classic "The Rule of Law", that foremost constitutional norm has equality as a key component.
I will never forget the joy and privilege of chairing the launch of his paperback just months before his untimely death in 2011. Recently retired from our highest court, he was looking forward to enjoying the freedom to campaign in defence of the Human Rights Act in particular. This week I shall return to the RSA for the launch of a paperback polemic of my own. "Of Wom=n" is my best attempt at analysing and urging action against global gender injustice. Inevitably the cure, like the disease must be social, economic and cultural, but the law and its architects and custodians also have a significant part to play.
How is it that after 90 (not 100 - don't believe the hype - in 1918 working-class women were deliberately excluded) years of women's suffrage and nearly 50 of Equal Pay legislation in the U.K, financial, social, professional and political equality between the sexes is still so apparently far from reach?
Firstly, our equality laws need greater teeth. It is fanciful to place the burden of policing equal pay law on individual women, especially when they are denied access to legal services and so many employers elude any semblance of transparency in relation to pay. State agencies audit and enforce both corporate governance and tax collection. It seems to me that it's high time for similar powers in relation to pay parity as well.
I have also seen the enormous catalysing effect of targeted and time-limited affirmation action methods to improve the representation of women. As a result of the use of All Women Shortlists, the Labour Party has more women Members of Parliament than all other political parties combined and we have a wholly reasonable and attainable target of achieving 50 per cent at the next General Election whenever it comes. I believe it maybe time for legislative change to enable similar measures in highly segregated areas of the workforce. I think much good could come from more young male primary school teachers, more ethnically diverse police services and yes, from more women in our corporate boardrooms and senior judiciary.
I have no doubt in my mind that men can do justice for women. It was after all a male-dominated judiciary and not a female-led Government, that finally outlawed marital rape in our country only three decades ago. Nonetheless, more diverse experience will enhance our most precious institutions, encourage public trust and protect the Rule of Law from the "enemies of the people" cynicism that prefers the law of the oligarch and the mob.
Shami Chakrabarti is the Shadow Attorney General and a member of the House of Lords.
A lawyer, she is Honorary Professor of Law at the University of Manchester, Honorary Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford and a Master of the Bench of Middle Temple. She was previously Chancellor of both Oxford Brookes University and then the University of Essex.
Baroness Chakrabarti was Director of Liberty, the National Council for Civil Liberties from 2003 to 2016, and a member of the panel of the Leveson Inquiry, the judicial inquiry into UK phone hacking in 2011.
Called to the Bar in 1994 she worked as a lawyer in the Home Office from 1996 until 2001 for Governments of both persuasions.
Shami's first book, On Liberty, is published by Penguin. Her second, Of Women, was published on 26 October 2017.