Female barristers win right to use all-male locker room at London court

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A judge has ordered that women barristers must be given access to a “Rumpolian” all-male locker room used by lawyers during major trials.

The move at Southwark crown court came after female advocates said they were excluded from crucial conversations about cases.

The space at the courthouse will now be unisex and open to men and women QCs and their teams following the ruling by Judge Deborah Taylor. The locker room is used by barristers to get changed into their gowns and wigs for court.

The change had been made because “gender should play no part in the role or status of a barrister”, Judge Taylor told the Bloomberg news service. 

There are three changing rooms at the court, a large one that had been for men only and two smaller ones just for women. 

The large room will now be for male and female barristers while the others will be gender-specific. The court hosts high-profile City fraud trials, an area of law where women are particularly under-represented.

In the TV and radio series Rumpole Of The Bailey, Leo McKern, and later Benedict Cumberbatch, play a veteran barrister, Horace Rumpole, in an overwhelmingly male legal world.

Only 14 per cent of QCs and fewer than a third of judges are women, but addressing the imbalance is expected to be given a priority after the appointment of Brenda Hale as Supreme Court president from October. Lady Hale has said that the Supreme Court should be “ashamed” if it did not fill vacant posts with women. A second woman will join her on the 12-strong bench later this year.

In a speech last week Lady Hale said: “It is a priority to achieve better representation of half the human race on the bench. 

“Judging should be informed as much by the experience of leading a woman’s life as it is by the experience of leading a man’s.”

Barristers are largely self-employed so taking time out for having children can put women several years behind male peers in seniority.


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