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"I defy anyone to find any sexism in the Bar" ? top UK judge

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 8 Nov 2011 09:36 GMT
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LONDON (TrustLaw) – With more women being admitted to practice law, the Bar has altered “out of all recognition," one of Britain’s most senior judges has said.

Lady Justice Heather Hallett - seen by many as a contender to becoming the first female Lord Chief Justice, or head of the judiciary of England and Wales - is currently one of four female Court of Appeal judges.

"I defy anyone to find any racism, any sexism, in the Bar today. There's certainly none that I'm aware of,” Hallett told London’s Evening Standard newspaper in an interview published on Monday.

“Even the chambers where traditionally women and black and minority ethnic (BME) people didn't get in, like the commercial sets, the figures read extremely well. The Bar has made huge progress," she said.

The 61-year-old recalled the early days of her career in London’s once notoriously sexist legal world, calling it “horrific”.

"I was offered a position about which I was proud and a senior male judge said 'Are you pleased to have got that particular position?' I said 'I'm thrilled', and he then made it plain how I could thank him,” Hallett was quoted as saying. “That's what life was like in the Seventies and Eighties."

The Standard said although more women than men secure pupillages, two thirds of the Bar is still male.

Hallett, who gained praise for her handling of the inquests into the suicide bombings in London in 2005, blamed the “horrific work-life balance” for deterring women from staying long enough in the profession to become a judge.

Although she suggested that reorganising work patterns might help, she also called for implementing the so-called “tie-breaker” provisions in the UK’s 2010 Equality Act.

These provisions allow employers to choose a candidate from an under-represented or disadvantaged group where there are two equally well-qualified candidates.

"I'm in the camp where I would like to see the tie-breaker provisions used. I think there may be times when you have two candidates of virtually equal merit, both of whom would make a good judge, one of whom comes from a non-traditional background,” Hallett said. “I think the tie breaker could be used to good effect there."

She went on to say that: "The more your legal profession and your judiciary reflect society, the better for everybody: the more they command public confidence; the greater legitimacy they have; and the greater range you have of people providing the talents.”

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