The palatial lodgings of the high-ranking English judiciary are run like gentlemen’s clubs where ladies are expected to retire after dinner to leave the men to talk, claims a senior female judge who has decided to speak out about sexism in the law.
In an interview in the Law Society book Women in the Law, published next Monday, the Court of Appeal judge says she has been “deeply affronted” that in the company of male judges the assumption has been that women will withdraw from the dining room.
Judges’ lodgings, many of them listed buildings, accommodate High Court judges when they are sitting in courts away from home, and the etiquette of each lodgings is dictated by the most senior judge in residence.
In another interview, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, president of the family division of the High Court and the most senior female judge in England and Wales, recalls a male solicitor demanding a male pupil barrister rather than a “qualified woman”. She says she also had to lower the timbre of her voice to make an impact at the Bar.
The book suggests sexism still obstructs many women trying to make a career in the legal profession, and senior judges remain mostly white, male and middle-class, despite government attempts to broaden representation in the judiciary.
Very few women have broken through into the higher ranks of the judiciary. Only three of 36 Court of Appeal judges are women, as are six of the 107 High Court judges. There has never been a female law lord.