Dr Judith Bourne

A yr on from the centenary of the Intercourse Disqualification (Removing) Act 1919, we should always not change into complacent concerning the place of ladies throughout the authorized occupation. When the act obtained royal assent, the press reported an finish to girls’s inequality.

Nevertheless, 101 years later the statistics on girls in legislation make tough studying. In March 2020 the SRA reported that, though girls make up 49% of legal professionals in legislation companies, relating to seniority, simply 34% of companions are feminine. The statistics are worse on the bar; in December 2019, the Bar Requirements Board reported that girls constituted simply 38% of practitioners. Solely 16.2% of QCs are girls.

Inequality was mirrored in pay, with the Regulation Society reporting in 2019 that the solicitors’ occupation had a median pay hole of 8.3%. The numbers are defined by an imbalance of female and male employees in govt director roles. So the concept that the Intercourse Disqualification (Removing) Act in 1919 achieved equality was fallacious. It was simply the beginning and we’re nonetheless ready.

But, modern newspapers proclaimed that the act meant an finish to inequality. In July 1919 the Lancashire Night Publish reported that the act would take away ‘all’ authorized and civil disabilities underneath which girls laboured in 1919. Likewise, in August 1919 the Sphere reported that the Intercourse Disqualification Removing Invoice would enlarge the ‘borders’ of womankind and take away ‘all disqualification’ of ladies. Girls, the Sphere continued, couldn’t have ‘dreamt’ that their authorized disabilities would disappear so ‘shortly’. In the same vein, in December 1919 the Middlesex County Instances reported that each one obstacles to the professions had been eliminated by the act and that girls might now fill ‘all’ roles.  

It’s notable that feminists corresponding to Millicent Fawcett and Ray Strachey had been ambivalent concerning the act, preferring earlier, parliamentary payments that didn’t cross.

Girls didn’t want to attend till 2020 to know that the act was not the success the newspapers or authorities promised; the issues had been there from the beginning. For instance, would-be girls barristers complained of being made to really feel uncomfortable when eating. There have been many disagreeable incidents, such because the Grey’s Inn treasurer drunkenly denouncing girls members. Girls corresponding to Helena Normanton (and later Gladys Chatterjee) would have seen their earlier, sterling tutorial file destroyed after they obtained poor bar finals outcomes, presumably the results of aware bias.

Mary Sykes portrait

Later, issues arose when girls barristers tried to search out pupillage or tenancies. Clerks seen girls as a ‘unhealthy funding’. When Normanton utilized for a pupillage she obtained a reply from the clerk, that his ‘[H]ead of Chambers wouldn’t approve’, as a result of he had ‘old school rules’ and a girl in chambers could be too ‘upsetting for him’.

In 1922, 10 girls had been known as to the bar and 4 girls had been admitted to the roll of solicitors. Proof that the act didn’t usher in equality will be seen from the careers of the primary cohort of ladies barristers. Authorized observe was tough until the girl had a male ‘gatekeeper’.

The primary 4 girls solicitors fared a bit of higher than the early barristers, in all probability due to their household connections. In 1922 Carrie Morrison grew to become the primary lady solicitor to be entered on the roll. She married a colleague within the agency she labored for and collectively they arrange a authorized partnership. Mary Sykes began her observe in her father’s agency. Mary Pickup married the solicitor she labored for in 1910 and have become articled to him after the act was handed. Maud Crofts (considered one of 4 claimants in Bebb v The Regulation Society) was the daughter of a barrister, who spent the primary world struggle working in a solicitor’s workplace. It may be no coincidence that the ladies who stayed in gainful observe had some household ‘champion’ – the act might have given formal equality however it didn’t confer substantive equality. One wanted networks and connections.

We all know of the careers of seven of the primary girls barristers. Solely two had authorized household connections. Naomi Constance Wallace was the daughter of a QC, however we all know little else about her. Ivy Williams’ father was a solicitor, however she grew to become an instructional. Sybil Campbell’s grandfather was a choose, however she discovered it tough to remain in chambers and needed to take paid employment, earlier than lastly turning into the primary lady stipendiary Justice of the Peace. The opposite non-connected girls struggled. Helena Normanton and Monica Geikie Cobb each seem to have stayed in observe till retirement, with Normanton turning into one of many first feminine QCs. Even Normanton needed to complement her earnings with journalism. We’ve got little particulars as to how profitable Cobb’s observe was.

Auvergne Doherty held an ambition to practise however as a substitute needed to earn a dwelling as a secretary. Theodora Llewelyn Davies left the bar on marriage (as was the patriarchal norm), regardless of practising prison legislation. She grew to become a penal reformer alongside along with her husband, Roy Calvert. Ethel Brilliant Ashford grew to become a Westminster councillor, whereas conserving a reputation on the chambers door. The final lady of that cohort was Beatrice Honour Davy, who grew to become a solicitor in 1931 as a result of she couldn’t afford to remain on the bar. This was not what was promised; the bar didn’t welcome girls.


 Dr Judith Bourne is a programme director for legislation and an affiliate professor at St Mary’s College, Twickenham