Lord Sumption: judicial gender equality could have ‘appalling consequences’

News|September 24th 2015

Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption has claimed that increasing the number of female judges could have “appalling consequences”.

In an interview with the Evening Standard, the 66 year-old former barrister and historian who spectacularly leap-frogged from private practice directly to the Supreme Court said that giving women preferential treatment when selecting judges could “make male candidates feel that the cards are stacked against them”. He added that “85 per cent of newly appointed judges in France are women because the men stay away” and that such a disparity was “just as bad” as it would be if the number was inverted.

Lord Sumption said the idea that the legal system in Britain was dominated by an “old boys’ network” was “rubbish”. Despite this claim, he admitted that the “lack of diversity is a significant problem”. However, he warned that it “simply can’t be transformed overnight, not without appalling consequence in other directions”.

He called the British justice system “a terribly delicate organism” and said patience would be required before the gender gap could be closed and that it “has to happen naturally”. The Supreme Court justice added that if a rule was introduced that every other judicial appointment had to be a woman, “it would still take us 20 years” before there was a 50/50 gender split.

The lack of women in the judiciary was probably because the jobs were “incredibly demanding in the hours of work and the working conditions are frankly appalling” and there were “more women than men who are not prepared to put up with that”, he claimed.

Lord Sumption’s comments caused considerable backlash among the public and some legal professionals. Birmingham Law School senior lecturer Dr Steven Vaughan took issue with the justice’s claim that equality would “happen naturally” and said that the idea was “plainly wrong”. He cited a 2014 Bar Council study which suggested that “gender balance among all practising barristers is unlikely ever to be achieved”.

In response to widespread and no doubt unwelcome attention, given the notable lack of women at the top of the profession and only one woman – Lady Hale – who sits on the Supreme Court, it released a written statement. “Some of Lord Sumption’s comments appear to have been misunderstood”, it read. Lord Sumption believes “increasing diversity at all levels of the [legal] profession is important” and was simply warning against possible changes to the judicial appointments system “without careful analysis of the full range of potential consequences”.

Many years ago as a law student, I joined Gray’s Inn intending to become a barrister, but fate intervened. I took a year in France and I changed my mind. How glad I am that I did. So as a solicitor, not a barrister, I’ve never had to lose sleep about any Old Boys Network. Being a female solicitor in my own firm means despite the lack of a silver spoon start or knowing someone who could give my career a nudge in an upward direction, I’ve had to do far more than most to establish myself and my firm, and I’ve done it all my way without ever being beholden to anyone. I’ve even got married, had a child, and continued to work how I wanted, baby in tow. I’ve rolled up my sleeves, worked long hard hours for my clients, got the results, and in the process built my firm nationally.

So when somewhat ironically, given my student membership all those years ago, I look out today onto Gray’s Inn Gardens from the top floor of my firm’s building, do you know what? I much prefer it that way.

To read the original interview, click here.

Author: Marilyn Stowe

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

Comments(3)

  1. David Mortimer says:

    For every category of offence, men are more likely to be sent to prison than women

    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm121016/halltext/121016h0002.htm

    Will you comment on the fact that although 70% of men are in prison for a non-violent offence, 81% of women are, which suggests that although some statistics may favour women, that one most certainly does not.

    http://www.ukfamilylawreform.co.uk/foreverycategoryofoffencemenaremorelikelytobesenttoprisonthanwomen16thoctober2012.htm

    • stitchedup says:

      Gender bias exists throughout the legal/judicial system and is getting worst due to continual feminist lobbying. Just this week we’ve seen the lobbying in action again, 700000 women and girls in prison worldwide…… We are told that this should be of “profound concern” to governments as “these girls make up a SMALL but growing MINORITY of the total world prison population; they are an extremely vulnerable and disadvantaged group, and tend to be victims of crime and abuse themselves.” Recently there was a call to half the number of female prisoners in the UK… In the words of Tommy Cooper “just like that”. Women must be believed and treated as victims, men must be disbelieved and treated as perpetrators, this now appears to be official police/cps policy.

  2. Mrs Raft says:

    All I can think is how much did we over-pay for that diabolical carpet? I hope it is a photoshop joke because the leek looks more like a …

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