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In the News

First Woman Appointed to Lead the Judiciary

Gemma Shepherd-Etchells

25th September 2023

After more than a hundred men holding the position, two women were the last in the race to head up the judiciary as Lord Chief Justice. Dame Sue Carr was appointed to the role by the King to be effective from 1 October 2023.

After the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 gave women the right to quality as solicitors and barristers, more than 100 years later, at the top level in the judiciary, they are still underrepresented. Although this has improved over the past 8 years, with them now making up a third of this group, rather than a quarter as was the position in 2014; there is still work to be done. It is hoped that this appointment of Dame Sue Carr will work to level the playing field. After graduating from Cambridge with a law degree she qualified as a barrister, was made a QC (Queens Counsel) and then became a Recorder (part-time judge) before being appointed to the judiciary at the High Court (Queens Bench Division) which deals with civil disputes such as libel and contract cases.

As the head of the judiciary, she will oversee the allocation of court work, which will be quite a challenge considering the current court backlogs. She will also represent the judiciary to Parliament and Government. The first thing she will have to do however is decide on her title as Lord Chief Justice may not be appropriate. Her title may be changed after consultation with the Lord Chancellor, and she may become Lady Chief Justice or the gender neutral Chief Justice - only time will tell!

Further tasks

  • Draw the court hierarchy for the criminal and civil law courts and label this with the different judges who sit in these courts.
  • Research figures of the number of women involved in the legal system (solicitors, barristers, Magistrates, different judges). Do you see any trends?
  • Discuss reasons why there is a gender gap in the top legal professional roles. Why may this be narrowing?

Gemma Shepherd-Etchells

Gemma is an experienced Law teacher and examiner.

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