CBA Monday Message 05.02.18
The 6th February marks the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which gave the vote to all women over 30. Since then we have come a long way. We still have far to go.
This message comes from Nemone Lethbridge, a barrister born in 1932. She has had an extraordinary life. She was called to the Bar when it was very rare for women to succeed. She married a man who had been sentenced to death and as a result was expelled from her Chambers. She has written several plays for television and works tirelessly for justice.
Today she tells us about the barriers she has faced in the years since her call.
The year was 1952. I went up to Sommerville College Oxford to read law. There was no resident law tutor there. There were only two women studying the subject anyway so we were farmed out. Our tutor regarded us with amused contempt. “Neither of you is clever” he said. “The idea of you going to the Bar is hilarious, if not pathetic. But it hardly matters as you’ll both commit matrimony anyway”.
The year was 1956. I was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn wearing homemade black crinoline. I was taken as a pupil by Mervyn Griffith-Jones, one of the prosecuting counsel at Nuremberg. This was through nepotism rather than merit (my father was Chief of Intelligence for the British Army of the Rhine). When the senior clerk heard of the connection he is reputed to have said “this is a royal command. Regard it as an experiment which need never be repeated”.
There was no training in advocacy at the time. Pupils were on their feet the moment of call. My first case was before the terrifying Sir Gerald Dodson at the Old Bailey. The case was one of arson. I had no solicitor to help me. Not surprisingly my client was convicted.
My second six was spent as pupil to the kindly Norman Broderick at 3 Pump Court. Rose Heilbron had broken the glass ceiling and was a tenant there.
The year was 1957. I become a tenant at 3 Hare Court. I was fortunate. Most chambers at the time adhered to the principle, “No woman: no black men”. The main problem for me was that chambers relied largely on prosecuting work, which was in the gift of the Scotland Yard Solicitor. He wouldn’t instruct women. I had to find my own work. There were three ways to do this. First: to go for the infamous dock brief. Here one was paraded in a kind of bizarre cattle market hoping to be chosen by a defendant on a whim, on one’s looks, without reference to ability. Second to go out on circuit. Here one would travel to one of the pleasant cathedral cities of the West Country the evening before the Assizes sat. Dine in the Bar mess, hope to catch the eye of the circuit wine waiter, who had unlimited patronage over the minor prosecution work. Briefs were handed out discreetly at the beginning of dinner, hence the term (still in use today) “the soup list”. Third was to be lucky. This is how I come to be retained by a Kray brother in the early days of their infamous careers. But that is a long story, better told elsewhere.
The year was 1961. I was forced to leave the Baras a result of my marriage to James O’Connor, (Here is their story:
It took me nearly twenty years to get back.
The year was 1981. I was invited to join the Chambers of Louis de Pinna, an old school Liberal of independent mind and without prejudices. He took on a number of black tenants, and braver still, took on me, despite my years in the wilderness. I was astonished at the change in atmosphere. There were women on the Bench and in the robing room, black faces everywhere. My first solicitor client was Asian.
The year was 1995. Outraged by the cuts in Legal Aid Mark Twomey (now in Silk) and I set up the Our Lady of Good Counsel Law Centre in Stoke Newington. We had the blessing of the Bar Council but remain small and unfunded. With the Legal Aid System under constant attack, we find ourselves the only refuge for many who otherwise would have no recourse to justice.
In the year 2018 Nemone is still going strong. She is still committed to her law centre. Recently she said that she is still amazed by her transformation from ‘outlaw to feminist icon’. She is still fighting to clear her husband’s name.
Her lifelong commitment to justice and fairness for all is undimmed by the barriers and tragedies she has faced.
There will be another career progression event for women on 28th March at Middle Temple Hall at 6pm with drinks and networking to follow. Further details will be published in due course.
News and Updates:
Following the sad news of Sir Henry Brooke’s death this week we remind you all to read his blog posts. His voice and the reason and passion with which he expressed his views will be sorely missed.
Could all members who are aware of any disclosure issue as it arises also contact me directly at [email protected].
The CBA, CLSA, LCSA and the BBC would like to hear from legal professionals about disclosure concerns behind the headlines.
A survey has been designed and will be open for a two week period starting today and closing at 12noon on the 19th February. It is based on your experiences over the past 12 months. The survey only takes a few minutes to complete. It should be completed for each individual case in which a disclosure issue has arisen. This could form an important data source going forward so please do take part.
Young people in the CJS:
The NSPCC has commissioned Joyce Plotnikoff and Richard Woolfson, to update their influential study ‘Measuring up? Evaluating implementation of government commitments to young witnesses’ (2009). The new project involves analysis of current policies, surveys of judges, advocates and other CJS professionals and interviews with young witnesses.
This is an important survey in advance of the roll out of section 28 and will provide an invaluable insight into how the system is dealing with all young people, including young defendants. It takes 10 or 15 minutes to complete. Please do take part. Responses are requested by 10th March.
It can be found at:
The password is NSPCC.
The SEC will hold a wellbeing seminar on 20thFebruary His Honour Judge Simon Davis and His Honour Judge John Denniss are the speakers at Inner Temple Hall.