Posts Tagged ‘judicial diversity’

IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

Minister for Women Is Axing Feminism from A-Level Politics

Ella Dodd, Durham University

Nicky Morgan, education secretary and minister for women has drafted a curriculum dropping feminism from the A-level Politics syllabus. What’s more, the proposed new syllabus only features one female political thinker, Mary Wollstonecraft, heightening the ‘insulting and misguided’ actions of the Education department. This move has prompted individuals such as Jacquelyn Guderley to ask if feminism is removed from the syllabus, ‘how can we learn from them and progress? How can we be thankful but hungry for more?’

Perhaps the drafters of the change to the politics syllabus should read Mary Wollstonecraft’s first book, “Thoughts on the Education of Daughters”, which promotes female education and encourages mothers to teach their daughters. The removal of the feminist voice from the syllabus may mean the silencing of lessons passed down from generations before who struggled for equality.


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IB imageSnapshots of law, gender and sexuality news from the past couple of weeks.

Supreme Court Decides on Fraudulent Divorce Case

Catherine Ravenscroft, Durham University

On 14th October 2015, the Supreme Court handed down judgement in the landmark case of Sharland v Sharland. This case concerned the division of assets upon divorce where one party, in this instance the husband, has fraudulently misled the court as to their future financial plans. Mr Sharland owned shares in a company which he told the Court he had no intention of selling. Mrs Sharland signed a consent order on the basis of this assertion. However, during the court hearing, it was discovered that Mr Sharland did indeed have plans to sell his shares, which would significantly affect the claim which Mrs Sharland advanced. She appealed to the Supreme Court on the basis that the consent order should be sealed. It was unanimously held that ‘fraud unravels all’ and the consent of Mrs Sharland was found to be vitiated by the fraudulent behaviour of her husband. The consent order was, thus, set aside.

The importance of this decision is to be found in its consequences. The decision of the Supreme Court has allowed Mrs Sharland to return her claim to first instance and have its value reconsidered by the courts. Although the full significance of this decision may not be felt for some time, it appears to create significant scope for the re-opening of divorce settlements on the basis of fraud. In contrast, there are also concerns that this decision may open the floodgates to couples attempting to revisit divorce agreements.


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Elena KapardisElena Kapardis is a PhD candidate at Birmingham Law School, University of Birmingham. She has a great interest in the judiciary, judicial diversity and judicial performance.

With progress towards improved judicial diversity moving at snail’s pace, ‘the time has now come for quotas’ according to a Report, Judicial Diversity: Accelerating Change, commissioned by the shadow Lord Chancellor Sadiq Khan, published last week. This is not a surprise. Back in April 2014 when announcing the appointment of the Report’s authors, Sir Geoffrey Bindman QC and Karon Monaghan QC, the press reported that “Nothing is off the table”:

A Labour government would be prepared to introduce the “nuclear option” of quotas for female and black and ethnic minority judges to avoid a 100-year wait to achieve a judiciary reflecting the composition of the population. “

More recently, Lord Neuberger has stated that the absence of judicial diversity, especially in senior posts, is a major concern for the judiciary. Emphasizing that we must not assume that the problem will resolve itself, he continued

“I am not one of those people who optimistically thinks that if we just sit back it will all sort itself out and the judiciary will eventually include many more women and ethnic minorities”.


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erikar Erika Rackley, Durham Law School.

This post was first published in the Guardian on 22 May 2014.


What’s in a title? For Alison Russell QC, the first high court judge who will be formally addressed as Ms Justice, quite a lot it seems. Good for her, and good for the judiciary too. Though the use of Ms is hardly something new, feminists have been grappling with its meaning and significance for a while now. It’s about time the judiciary caught up.

Indeed, one might wonder whether we might do away with the gendered appendage to a judge’s title completely. Is it really necessary to continue distinguish between Mr, Mrs and Ms Justice Bloggs? Perhaps. One reason for doing so is that it reminds us that women can be judges too. When most of us think of judges we think first of (old, white) men. This presumption is problematic for a number of reasons, not least because it still fits the facts.

Just five years until the centenary of women’s admission to the legal profession, and almost half a century since Mrs Justice Lane’s ground-breaking appointment to the high court, men continue to outnumber women on its bench by around 5:1, and in the judiciary generally by about 4:1. Further up the hierarchy it is more than 25 years since Lady (then “Lord”) Justice Butler-Sloss’s pioneering appointment as president of the family division and just over a decade since Lady Hale joined the House of Lords (and the UK supreme court). Both remain the only women to have reached those positions.


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 Three Laws Criminalising Aspects of Sex Work in Canada Declared in Breach of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Vikki Lang (Durham Law School)

‘It’s about whether or not we believe that sex workers are people deserving of the same rights and dignity as the rest of the public’ – Plaintiffs’ Memorandum, Bedford v Canada 2012

On the 20th December 2013, the landmark decision of Attorney General of Canada v. Terri Bedford, Amy Lebovitch and Valerie Scott was reached. In this case, three sex workers used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to successfully challenge laws that criminalised certain actions relating to selling sex. Canada’s highest court has ruled that three provisions of Canada’s Criminal Code, s. 210 (keeping or being found in a bawdy house), s. 212(1)(j) (living on the avails of prostitution), and s. 213(1)(c) (communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution) violate the s. 7 right to security of the person protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. All three laws have been struck down.

In the decision the court said:

‘The prohibitions at issue do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky – but legal – activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risk.” (para 60)’

This landmark decision saw sex workers, for the first time, successfully rely on human rights legislation to protect their safety and freedom in relation to their occupation. The plaintiffs successfully argued that their right to liberty and security of the person was breached as they were forced to break the law and risk arrest in order to take actions that increase their security and safety. (more…)

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erikarErika Rackley, Durham Law School

These are interesting times for judicial diversity. In the same fortnight as public pension cuts hit judges’ pensions and the three vacancies on the UK Supreme Court are filled, Lady Hale – the first, and so far only, female Supreme Court Justice – turned her attention to a number of ‘uncomfortable truths’ about judicial diversity including the (oft-unspoken) fear, that ‘a radical increase in the number of women and BME judges [would] lead in time to lower pay, lower status and ultimately to a less able judiciary’. (You can read her lecture here and as reported in The Guardian here).

And yet, while this and other ‘demons’ were deftly slain by Lady Hale, it remains to be seen what effect the pension cuts will have on quality of judicial applicants and the status of the judiciary as a whole. But what of diversity? Will the change in financial benefits make any difference to the diversity of those opting to become a judge?


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Kate Malleson, Professor at Queen Mary, University of London and an Executive Committee member of the Equal Justices Initiative, which seeks to promote the equal participation of men and women in the judiciary in England and Wales by 2015.

This week saw further discussion of the proposed changes to how judges are appointed in the Crime and Courts Bill 2012 (here and here). In this paper, delivered in response to a lecture by Sir Stephen Sedley at Mansfield College, Oxford earlier in the month, Kate Malleson asks whether a diverse judiciary is still a pipe dream?

Twenty years ago, around the time when I first became interested in the issue of diversity in the judiciary, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Taylor said:

‘The present imbalance between male and female, white and black in the judiciary is obvious…I have no doubt that the balance will be redressed in the next few years…Within five years I would expect to see a substantial number of appointments from both these groups’.[1]

As we all know, that hasn’t happened. The judiciary remains largely white, male and middle class and it becomes paler, maler and more socially advantaged the higher up you go. England and Wales is not alone in this. This pattern is repeated around the world and in almost all liberal democracies is a cause of much scrutiny and concern. There is now a clear consensus, in many jurisdictions that, in the words of Lady Hale, ‘a diverse judiciary is an indispensable requirement of any democracy’ (p.2). Yet despite this, no democracy to date has achieved a genuinely diverse judiciary and in England and Wales there is no prospect that it will happen any time soon.

In the light of the intransigent nature of the problem, I want to put forward two arguments. First, that the issue of judicial diversity is inherently political and only a political commitment to change will bring it about. Second that diversity will bring problems as well as benefits and that we need to be much more honest about the implications of a more diverse judiciary. (more…)

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Erika Rackley, Durham Law SchoolThis article originally appeared on the Guardian Law pages on 31 May 2012.

Apparently, we now have an answer to why our judiciary remains one of the least diverse in the world: our women and ethnic minority lawyers just aren’t good enough. During the second reading of the crime and courts bill earlier this week, Lady Butler-Sloss began well. She gave “strong support” for greater diversity among those appointed to the judiciary – so long as, of course, that such appointments are made “on merit”. Few would disagree with that.

However, in attempting to underline this point, things went downhill. Butler-Sloss continued: “It will be very important that women – particularly those from ethnic minorities – who may not be able to bear the strain of the judicial process are not placed in a position where they may find themselves failing because there has been too much enthusiasm for diversity and not enough for merit. This is very important. I have a vivid recollection of a woman judge many years ago who was a very fine pianist. She should have remained a pianist”.

To be fair, her qualification that there was “perhaps” too much enthusiasm for diversity in contrast to merit failed to make it into the Hansard transcript – but there again neither did her colleagues’ gentle titter which followed her remark.

So are ethnic-minority women judges just not up to the job? (more…)

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Liv Beard, Lou McGolpin & Emily Parker

In a few words ….

Elizabeth Debold argues that it is up to women to make a difference, and that we must ‘shape our future’ otherwise we will ‘recreate the past’.

Let us hope that those women with the power to effect change will heed this simple warning.

Women in law and the boardroom

It has been suggested that increasing the role of politicians within the selection process of the judiciary could increase diversity. However, Lord Hart indicates that the problem does not lie with the appointments process, but the pool from which roles are allocated; “[t]he pool has not widened in a significant way, partly because of the difficulty of persuading solicitors to come forward for judicial appointment”.

While Norway’s biggest human disaster in decades has dominated headlines for the fortnight, the country has also been in the news for more positive reasons. Research has shown that Norway’s quota of 40% women on corporate boards has had a positive effect on corporate equality; the figure has risen from 3% in 1993 to 43% currently. However, these reports have also raised debate over whether such quotas are a move towards genuine equality.

On home turf, after criticism from the government, the British business industry is also aiming to ensure greater representation of women in important roles at the top of companies. (more…)

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Erika Rackley (Durham Law School)

This article was originally published in the Guardian website on Tuesday 29 March 2011. The official announcement was made on 4 May 2011.

Just two weeks after it was reported that women in the legal professions are still finding it difficult to break through the glass ceiling, comes another setback. Though an official announcement has yet to be made, it seems that the next two appointments to the UK Supreme Court will be men. Sir Nicholas Wilson and Jonathan Sumption QC were said to be in the running when Sir John Dyson was appointed in March 2010.  This time they’ve made it to the finish line. Of course there is much to be said about Sumption’s ‘leapfrogging’ from the bar straight into the top level of the judiciary. But what about the most obvious characteristic they both share with all but one of their new colleagues? What of the fact that, Baroness Hale excepted, the UK Supreme Court is populated by white men? (more…)

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