The Foreign Office has announced that the next UK ambassador to France is to be Menna Rawlings, the first female appointed to that role. It means that all the top UK ambassadorial jobs are to be held by women:- UN, USA, China, Russia, Germany, Japan, and Australia among other places. It has been a rapid ascent – until 1973 women diplomats had to resign if they married and the first female ambassador was only appointed in 1987.
I was called to the Bar in 1985. There were in my year at Bar School approximately as many women as men. At that time there were no women judges in the House of Lords (then the highest court in the land) or the Court of Appeal and only 3 in the High Court (all in the Family Division). 36 years later progress in this regard has been indisputably slow. Only 17% of Supreme Court Justices, 25% of the Court of Appeal and 31% of the High Court Bench are women.
The simple question is if the Diplomatic Service can encourage, support and promote women to these senior and prestigious jobs, why has the Judiciary failed to anything like the same extent? Put another, if equality between the sexes exists amongst diplomats why is it so elusive amongst the judges?
There are probably a number of reasons that together go some way to answering these questions. But I would venture and highlight just one of these, the vast majority of our senior judiciary came from the private practising Bar and the structure of our profession is such that directly or indirectly we discriminate against women in such a way as to make it very hard for them to rise to the top. Though most, if not all Chambers, give some encouragement and support to women who take periods of parental leave, in a self-employed profession this is bound to be limited. In short, the problem is truly systemic and for the situation to improve either the Bar needs to do much better and in doing so probably change in some significant manner or those appointing the Judges (presently the JAC) will increasingly look outside the relatively few Chambers who provide virtually all the upper echelons of the judiciary.
Either way we collectively need to do much better.
David Josse Q.C. has been Head of Chambers since 2015. He is a barrister specialising in extradition, human rights, international war crimes and serious crime, both nationally and internationally. David is ranked in Chambers and Partners and The Legal 500 as a silk in the field of extradition at the London Bar.