We’ve all heard about International Women’s Day right? Well, as a lawyer of 22 years call, this year is the first time I have heard about International Day of Women Judges! In fairness, the type of law I practise means I generally don’t have much interaction with the judiciary. Still, you’d think that given the day’s proximity to IWD there would be more publicity on a day which highlights the importance of women within the legal profession.
Perhaps the most famous lady within the legal profession, Lady Justice also known as the Roman goddess Justitia. Lady Justice is the symbol of the moral and legal principles that govern modern society.
Depicted as a blindfolded woman holding a set of scales and a sword, Lady Justice represents the ideal of impartiality and fairness in the administration of justice.
The scales represent the weighing of evidence and arguments in a Court of Law.
The blindfold over her eyes signifies that justice should be impartial and unbiased. By being unable to see, factors such as wealth, power or social status should have no bearing on the verdict.
The sword represents the power of the law to enforce justice and punish wrongdoers.
So, how is it that despite the fact that the symbol of everything which the judiciary stands for is a woman, there is a huge disparity between men and women within the legal profession?
I think that a day which highlights women within the judiciary is hugely important. Despite advances in gender equality, the disparity between the number of female and male judges remains significant. Statistics show that generally only a third of the world’s judges will be female. This disparity can have important implications within the justice system.
Why The Disparity?
Gender bias, the lack of opportunities for women in the legal profession, and the persistence of traditional gender roles that discourage women from pursuing careers in the judiciary all contribute to the disparity between the number of male and female judges within the judiciary.
According to figures in the UK Government Statistics the representation of women in the legal professions by PQE (Post Qualified Experience) band (figures April 2021) shows that the number of women with more than 20 years PQE drops significantly. This could be as a result of the fact that in the main women continue to be the main caregiver within the family and as such,many, myself included, tend to take their foot off the career accelerator once they have children. This could have a direct bearing on the reason why the percentage of female judges is so much less than male judges.
How Can The Disparity Affect Legal Outcomes?
The underrepresentation of women in the judiciary has significant implications for the legal system as a whole. The lack of adequate representation within the judiciary leads to a lack of diversity in perspectives and experiences. This can also result in biased decision-making.
Concerns about such possible bias has led to Governments and organisations worldwide implementing measures to encourage the appointment of more women to the judiciary. Examples include the setting of quotas and providing mentorship and training programs for women in the legal profession.
These actions do appear to have led to some positive developments in recent years. In many countries, the number of women appointed to the judiciary has increased. There are now more women serving as judges at all levels of the judiciary than ever before.
That said, we must continue to look into and highlight the root causes of disparity within the legal profession (indeed all professions!). By promoting gender equality we can help to create a more diverse and inclusive judiciary that better serves the needs of all people.
Important Female Judges
Despite their relative underrepresentation, women have made significant contributions to the legal profession. Serving as inspiring role models for future generations.
Baroness Brenda Hale
The first woman to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from 2017 to her retirement in 2020.
She has delivered several important judgements, including the ruling in R (Miller) v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, which found that the government’s plans to trigger Article 50 without a vote in Parliament were unconstitutional, and the ruling in MM v. Secretary of State for the Home Department, which upheld the right of refugees to family life in the UK.
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss
The first woman to serve as a Lord Justice of Appeal in the UK and also the first woman to head a public inquiry in the country.
Dame Butler-Sloss is lnown for her work on family law and her commitment to protecting the rights of children. Delivering several important legal judgements that have had a lasting impact on the UK legal system throughout her illustrious career.
In Re H and R, a case involving a dispute over the custody of two children, Dame Butler-Sloss emphasized the importance of ensuring that the welfare of the child is the paramount consideration in all cases involving children.
Another of her important rulings came in re R, a case involving a dispute over the care of a child with disabilities. Dame Butler-Sloss recognized the right of children with disabilities to receive appropriate care and support, and she established the principle that the welfare of the child is the most important consideration in cases involving children with disabilities.
In re J a case involving a dispute over the care of a child who had been separated from his mother Dame Butler-Sloss emphasized the importance of ensuring that children are reunited with their parents whenever possible and that the welfare of the child is the most important consideration in cases involving separated families.
The first woman to be appointed as a judge in the Court of Appeal of England and Wales. Known for her contributions to commercial law and her commitment to advancing women’s rights in the legal profession.
The first Welshwoman to be appointed as a judge in the High Court of England and Wales. Nicola Davies is known for her expertise in environmental law and her commitment to promoting sustainability in the legal system.
Sandra Day O’Connor
The first woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court where she served for over two decades. Known for her centrist views and her commitment to protecting individual rights.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known as RBG, was a trailblazer for women in the legal profession. She was the second woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court. RBG was known for her progressive views and her commitment to advancing women’s rights.
She delivered several important judgements, including the ruling in United States v. Virginia. This landmark ruling struck down a state-supported military academy’s male-only admission policy.
Sonia Sotomayor is an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. She has delivered several important judgements, including the ruling in Fisher v. University of Texas, which upheld the use of race as a factor in college admissions, and the ruling in King v. Burwell, which upheld the subsidies provided under the Affordable Care Act.
The appointment of Gibraltar’s first female Puisne Judge only came in 2010, when Master Karen Ramagge Prescott was appointed to the Bench.
Mrs Justice Ramagge Prescott holds various firsts in Gibraltar. The first female to be appointed as Notary Public. First female Stipendiary Magistrate. And, first female Master of the Bench of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple.
Diversification Equals Fairness
These women judges have all played a critical role in the development of the legal system in their respective countries. Their legal judgements help to advance the cause of justice and equality for all people. And, they serve as role models for women everywhere especially those wishing to pursue a career in the judiciary.
Happy International Day of Women Judges!