The subject of gender equality has been a hot topic in the media with recent coverage on state and national programs to tackle the bias in the legal profession. The question of why so few women appear before the High Court, and why even fewer have speaking roles has been raised by Professor George Williams AO in recent articles which appeared in SMH, Age, Canberra Times and also the Fairfax online newspapers on Monday 27th February 2017.
The publications mentioned the Australian Law Journal which will feature the full research findings in a forthcoming article entitled ‘Gender Equality Among Barristers Before the High Court’ by Daniel Reynolds and George Williams.
In the column, Professor Williams presents some of his research findings on the topic of gender equality among barristers before the High Court. The article presents a survey of recent appearances before the High Court and assesses the extent to which gender equality among barristers before the High Court has been achieved. The data shows that female barristers are systematically under-briefed for matters before the nation’s highest court, and that even when women are briefed, they are disproportionately less likely to be given a speaking part
Draft extract from ALJ Article:
“It is reasonable to expect that this gap would have closed in the intervening years. After all, women are now more ‘properly represented’ in a range of legal fields. When Justices Gaudron and Kirby made their remarks in 1997, the percentage of women law graduates in Australia had just surpassed 50%. Today, the national percentage is above 60%. Women now constitute some 63% of people admitted to legal practice, and competition amongst law firms to attract the most talented female lawyers is fierce, with firms vying to have the highest proportion of women as equity partners. At the bar from 1999 to 2015, the percentage of female Australian barristers has climbed from 11% to 23%.”
“….Notwithstanding these changes to the composition of the Australian legal profession, it continues to be unusual to find women speaking before the High Court. As this article demonstrates, stark inequalities remain in the record of female barristers as compared with male barristers. In more than half of the matters heard by the High Court over the 2015-2016 financial year (FY16), not a single female barrister appeared for any party. In those matters in which women did appear, very few had speaking parts. Significantly, six of the top ten most frequently appearing female barristers before the High Court over this period did not speak on any occasion before the Court.
This article explores these issues against a backdrop of professional and academic research into gender equality in the Australian legal profession.”
The full article will appear in The Australian Law Journal Volume 91/Part 6.
Professor George Williams AO, is the Dean, the Anthony Mason Professor, and a Scientia Professor at UNSW Law and is a columnist for the SMH