Supreme Court Case Sees First Ever Female Judge Majority

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Baroness Hale

The UK’s highest court is set to have a case heard by a female majority of judges for the first time in the history of the English courts.

Three female and two male judges will rule in the Supreme Court this October on Re D, a case concerning the deprivation of liberty of a 16-year-old boy with Asperger’s syndrome and learning difficulties. The case, set for trial on October 3rd, will be presided over by Supreme Court President Lady Hale, Lady Justice Arden, Lady Black, and as well as Lords Carnwarth and Lloyd-Jones.

The landmark hearing marks the first time that the UK’s highest court will ever have been presided over by a female majority, just under 100 years since women were granted the right to qualify as lawyers. The Supreme Court was established in 2009 as the highest court of appeal for all civil cases in the UK and all criminal cases in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and is currently presided over by twelve judges in total.

It replaced the House of Lords, which functioned as the highest court of appeal for approximately 600 years.

Campaigners look back on first 100 years of women in law

Women have only been able to practise as barristers in Britain since 1920, when the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 took effect.

In 2004, Baroness Hale made history when she was appointed as the first female ‘Law Lord’, or House of Lords judge. The former academic lawyer and law reformer went on to become the most powerful judge in Britain when she was appointed President of the Supreme Court last year.

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of history project First 100 Years – which charts the first century of women’s accomplishments in the UK legal sector – praised the work of Baroness Hale in bringing more women to the top of the English judiciary since her appointment.

Stating that Baroness Hale is “really making a difference” to gender equality in the national judiciary, Denis-Smith added that the Supreme Court President’s “wonderful legacy” stood as “an example for other women in a leadership position.”

Lady Black was appointed as the second female justice on the Supreme Court in October 2017, after seven years serving as a Court of Appeal judge and previously being Head of International Family Justice.

In June this year, Lady Arden, who has ruled in the Court of Appeal since 2000, became the third female judge to be appointed to the Supreme Court. She will be sworn in on 1st October, just two days before the historic Re D hearing.

Baroness Hale: women still “seriously underrepresented” in judiciary

Whilst there has been some progress since Baroness Hale joined the House of Lords, critics note that gender imbalance amongst the UK’s judiciary appointments is still a significant issue. Earlier this year, Baroness Hale herself observed that women remain “seriously underrepresented” amongst the nation’s top judges.

Noting that there are now “more women than men studying law and starting out in the profession,” the Supreme Court head suggested that women were moving out of practicing at the Bar in prestigious chambers “from which the senior judiciary are traditionally recruited” in order to better balance work and family life.

Research published by human rights charity JUSTICE last year indicates that the UK has one of the least diverse senior judiciaries worldwide. In 2017, just 26% of Circuit Bench judges, 21% of Court of Appeal judges, and 8% of Supreme Court judges, were women.

This placed the nation behind New Zealand, Germany, Canada, Australia, France, Ireland, Norway, Denmark, America, South Africa, Sweden, Israel and Italy for gender balance amongst the national, senior judiciary.

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(Photo attribution: University of Salford Press Office)