And a scandal—especially given that women lawyers have long been abundantby Shami Chakrabarti / October 13, 2016 / Leave a comment
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Do you remember “the Supremes”? Not the great Motown girl band of the 1960s, but that classic episode of The West Wing from March 2004. It concerns a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court and the machinations that President Josiah Bartlet has to go through in order to nominate a progressive woman.
If a Bake Off-deprived BBC commissioned a new “Great British” political drama, the equivalent episode would be no less poignant. The Prime Minister meets with her new Justice Secretary—both of them women. Yes both women, and not only because the Westminster Wing would be set in a liberal fantasyland, but because that’s where real-life politics has progressed to in the age of Theresa May and Elizabeth Truss. But the anxious discussion of their screenplay equivalents concerns why the judiciary in general and Supreme Court in particular has failed to keep up. Each laments the fact that after well over a decade in our highest court—and due to retire in a few short years—Baroness Hale of Richmond remains the first and only woman. I don’t want to spoil the suspense for you, but in short they resolve that something must be done.
The stats are eye-watering by any measure. Our highest court (originally the Law Lords) welcomed the first and only woman in 2004. It subsequently “modernised” into a Supreme Court but still with only one woman out of 12 justices (8 per cent). This lags shamefully behind the position in equivalent courts overseas. On the Canadian Supreme Court, four out of eight judges are women—a ninth judge is in the process of being appointed. The Australian High Court has managed three out of seven, and New Zealand three out of six. On the French Conseil constitutionnel, it is four out of nine; and on the bench of the US Supreme Court, there are currently three women out of the current one-judge-short total of eight.
The progress of our other courts has been disappointingly sluggish as well. The Court of Appeal has edged from three in 2007 (8 per cent) to the present eight (which is still only 21 per cent); the High Court from 10 (9 per cent) to 22…