Brenda Hale will be sworn in as the first female president of the UK Supreme Court on 2 October. Her appointment was announced in July alongside that of Jill Black, who will become the second female Justice of the Supreme Court on the same date.
Such appointments represent significant and encouraging milestones for diversity within the upper levels of the judiciary, about which Lady Hale famously said:
“my colleagues are a remarkably diverse bunch, but I do not need to rehearse facts about how unrepresentative they are: not only mainly male, overwhelmingly white, but also largely the product of a limited range of educational institutions and social backgrounds.”
In the period from 1 April 2014 to 1 April 2017, the percentage of female judges increased from 18% to 24% in the Court of Appeal; 18% to 22% in the High Court and 24% to 28% in the courts judiciary. The percentage of BAME judges increased from 6% to 7%. Non-barristers decreased from 37% to 34%.
Solicitors Regulation Authority survey data from 2015 showed that, overall, women made up 47% of “all lawyers” (solicitors/barristers/Chartered Legal Executives and partners) in law firms. Of the “other staff” working in law firms, women were in the majority at 76%. Gender inequality became more apparent as you moved up the levels of seniority, with women making up 33% of partners. That was an increase of only 2% since the previous survey.
The UK Diversity Legal Awards are returning for an eighth year on 28 November 2017 to highlight the achievements of UK legal businesses in championing diversity and inclusion within the sector. The Chartered Institute of Legal Executive’s newly appointed female and first black president, Millicent Grant, has been nominated in the Lawyer of the Year category. One of Millicent’s main objectives is to tackle diversity issues within the judiciary.
These initiatives and senior appointments show evidence of cracks starting to appear in the legal system’s glass ceiling. CILEx Regulation has a regulated community which is 74% female; perhaps they finally will manage to break through.