Bar Council says there is a shortage of female judges

Allowances should be made for female barristers wishing to progress who have taken time out from their careers to have children, according to the chairman of the Bar Council, Alistair MacDonald QC. Only one in eight QCs are women. Just under a quarter of judges are women.

Female barristers face specific problems from long working hours, daily uncertainty over the location of court work and loss of crucial years of experience at the stage when competition is keenest to become a QC or a judge.

The Bar Council has encouraged chambers to introduce flexible working practices and progressive parental leave policies. Mr MacDonald suggested that the appointments panel that decides which barristers become QCs should “make allowances” for women barristers who might have accrued less experience by the time they want to take silk, because they have had time off to raise children.

“It’s important to recognise that if a woman has taken seven years off, a man – and usually it is a man – has had seven years more experience than [that] woman,” said Mr MacDonald. “If women take time off and do come back into the profession, I think you have to make allowance for that at the level of QC appointments and judicial appointments.” The judicial appointments committee should be looking at “potential” as well as “achievement”, he said.

Sam Mercer, the Bar Council’s head of equality, said she was concerned that the reduction in fees, as a result of cuts to legal aid, were making it harder to implement family-friendly policies. “As fast as we are taking steps to make things better for women, by introducing more flexibility in chambers, introducing parental leave policies in chambers, we are operating in an environment where, because of the cuts, the income is going down.”

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