Skip to main content

Monday Message 09.03.20

Chair’s Update:
Caroline Goodwin QC





Yesterday, marked international women’s day. How many of you actually knew that?

  • Is this truly a diverse profession?
  • Is this truly profession which wants to change?
  • Is this truly a profession demonstrating social mobility or greater diversity?
  • Are we merely paying lip service to gender balance, recruitment and retention?

How many of you are really aware as to the difficulties which we are anticipating there are going to be in future years regarding the number of women in practice at the criminal bar?

I suspect very few of you were aware of yesterday and its significance.

Without question the last few years has certainly seen an increased focus on the number of women in practice at the bar and going on to take up senior positions within the judiciary, but all of that will have been in vain if we cannot keep at the bar the junior women who are seeking a positive and indeed successful career at the bar.

At some point we really have to move into the 21st century by increasing diversity and equality at the bar.

In the case of female QC’s, the percentage number of women in silk as opposed to men is still very low at only 15.8% as of December 2018. This is not due to lack of ability. It is down to structure, work practices and attitude. How many robing rooms look diverse to you? How many boorish conversations have you had to overhear?

What about the Bench, is that a shop window exhibiting diversity? Circuit Bench, High Court?

Can you recall Lord Hope describing the erst while president of the Supreme Court Lady Hale as a difficult women when she was appointed: ‘Brenda is not easy to deal with, frightens some people and is so relentless in her pursuit of her agenda about women”.

“Regrets I have had a few” anyone know that song?  This is in our very recent past. It is shocking.

Albeit it is improving, this is still a profession dominated by white men from privileged backgrounds.  We need both genders and from all backgrounds working in the profession. The wider the Bar’s background the better it is able to represent the society it serves. More work has to be done and that includes attitudes to court sitting, greater flexibility when needed and an email protocol.


Why am I hearing this?

I have been to a number of functions recently where I have been speaking with female practitioners, bright, articulate, keen and dedicated.

Why am I hearing this same horror story time and time again: “I cannot stay at the criminal Bar”

It is a fact that within national employment statistics there is now a greater level of women in the workforce than ever before. 74% of women aged 25-64 are in the workforce, compared with 87% of men and yet and yet women remain much more likely to work part-time than men. The position in my view is even worse at the Bar. We do not seem or appear to want to change or lead by example.


Last week I went to conduct a trial in the magistrates. I met with my opponent a junior female barrister who was instructed the night before. Not only was she dealing with the case I was doing but she was having to deal with 3 other trials. She needed time. The magistrates bench was utterly unrealistic as to the time that they should give her to sort basic things out and by that I mean assemble all the witnesses, deal with legal teams, find the interpreter, do all those things that used to be the job of at least 2 other people. I asked for time for her from the bench. Who is training the magistrates?

They should step out of their academic towers and go and see for themselves the ridiculous expectations being expressed. She told me she was doing court lists as a junior prosecutor because she had just come back to practice and could simply not do the hours that were required at the Crown Court. Childcare was not flexible, and she could not do it. That of course was bad enough, but then she regaled me with an account of the magistrates one time starting a short trial at 5:30pm and sitting through until 7:30 pm.  No-one asked or enquired of her and she did not dare to say that she had child care difficulties. She wants to move across to family law because she is told there is greater understanding.


IS THIS FOR REAL? She had been at court since 9am and those of you who prosecute at the junior bar will know how little you are paid and you will know the cost of child care; although what child care is available at short notice until 8pm at night.

I see at the crown court an increase in the average age of practitioners and increasingly men dealing with crime. Do you wonder when you hear the stories and see what is going on. There is a haemorrhaging of talent.

Try sending an email at 3.30 am, after a day at court, managing your personal commitments and having to draft a skeleton. How many plates are we expected to spin?
Wellbeing is important.


The mindset has to change.

On Tuesday at Lincolns Inn is a wellbeing event. Please attend.

Meanwhile send in more emails, we need this information. We have to change.

In keeping with INTERNATIONAL WOMENS DAY I was asked to speak. Here is what I said:

The last 25 years has seen a seismic change for women’s progress at the Bar in the 100 years since their admission to practice. Yes, we can and should be proud – both women and men – of the progress achieved over the past century. We are all better off for the diversity of talent within the profession that does not answer to gender but quality of legal thought and advocacy. The clock however is being turned back. We cannot let all that hard work be undone. We are all the poorer if we can’t nurture that talent and ensure half the population remain properly represented from the junior bar to the senior judiciary

Women are more than ever represented across the Criminal Bar from junior Criminal barristers to QCs, judges from Crown Court upwards. To continue that diversity government  reinvestment into the Criminal justice system across the board is needed for the next generation.

We are today at a tipping point. 25 years of hard work across the Bar to break the glass ceiling for women is paying dividends. But it is at risk of unravelling. Fast.

This past year we see perhaps for the first time ever women holding top positions across the entire justice system. But we know at the CBA that is the result of the previous generation’s hard work to promote talent based on merit from a talent pool of the junior criminal bar women equally represented by men and women. Sadly, over the past five years the equal representation at the senior junior bar – those with between 15 and 20 years expertise – has gone into reverse.

Last year the  outgoing president of the Supreme Court was Lady Hale. The last senior presiding judge of England and Wales who stepped down in December was Lady Justice Macur. Her successor happens to be an equally talented former barrister, Lady Justice Thirlwall who was appointed senior presiding judge on January 1st, 2020 and stays until September 30th, 2021. 

While I am the chair of the Criminal Bar Association I follow in the footsteps of other strong leading women QCs – just two years ago Angela Rafferty QC was in the chair and now sits on the bench at Central London Criminal Court, better known as the Old Bailey. She like many other judges continues first and foremost the importance of quality legal professionals who join the judiciary and it helps us all if that person is also a woman, to better reflect the core diversity of talent as between the genders in the wider world.

This year’s chair of the Bar Council is Amanda Pinto QC – another Criminal barrister by practice who has blazed a trail in the world of white collar crime. As with the CBA she is the latest in a recent line of Chairs of the Bar who have risen to the top of the Criminal profession. In 2016 Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC was Bar Council chair and just three years earlier Maura McGowan had the chair but that was a full 15 years since the last female bar chair Heather Hallett, now known as the Right Honourable Lady Justice Hallett, the fifth woman to sit in the Court of Appeal, who herself has moved on  to the Lords after Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss.

But we need be able to look back in 25 years and see these role models who helped break the glass ceiling as just the first. We need to reach a time when it is no longer exceptional but the norm for women to be at the top of the profession. For that to be achieved our work on restoring proper rates of remuneration for both prosecution and defence advocates has only just begun. The battle must never cease to ensure fair pay for all. Without which junior criminal barristers will continue to leave, which if history is a guide tends to disproportionately impact women at the Criminal Bar. Their loss impacts tomorrow’s high court judges and the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court judges for the days after tomorrow.

I am proud to be chair of the Criminal Bar Association quite simple as a good barrister standing up for justice. But I will have failed in my duty to the Criminal Bar and ultimately to tomorrow’s judiciary and wider society if over the next 25 years we see only one or two more women who become chairs of the CBA. Roll on the next century for equality of opportunity at the Bar regardless of gender or social background.


In the spirit of IWD2020, we have a book giveaway, with two SIGNED copies of Equal to Everything: Judge Brenda and the Supreme Court, a truly beautiful and inspirational book, written by Afua Hirsch (now a sad loss from the Bar but a wonderful author and journalist), illustrated by Henny Beaumont (illustrator extraordinaire) and published by the amazing access to justice charity, Legal Action Group (LAG).

The story highlights some important cases Judge Brenda was faced with at the Supreme Court and explains how judges make difficult decisions. It teaches children about fairness, justice and how the law can be used for good and to protect us all. Above all, it is an inspiring story of a little girl who worked hard at school and went on to be extraordinary. It aims to empower children to believe they can achieve their dreams and never letting other people tell them they are not good enough.

Please send an email to Aaron and we will send one out. All we ask is that you please in return buy a book and donate it to a local state primary school.

LAG have launched a campaign to raise funds to send a copy to every primary school across the UK.  Generous members of the bar, solicitors and others have bought copies for schools in their local areas and we really encourage you and your chambers to consider this very worthwhile cause.  If able to donate or wish to lead the charge in your area, please contact [email protected]



View more news