In over 700 years of appointing a lawyer to be the head of the judiciary in England and Wales, a woman was never chosen. This is despite figures in recent years showing that women actually slightly outnumber men in the legal profession in the UK overall. Getting to senior positions and leadership roles within law firms or chambers, in-house, or in the judiciary remains a challenge for women in law worldwide. So, whether she is Lord Chief Justice/Lady Chief Justice or any other title, the appointment of Dame Sue Carr, is a moment of celebration for us all.
Of course, out of those 700+ years, women have only been able to become lawyers for the last 104. Dame Sue Carr joins a group of trailblazers in the English legal profession, only some of which I list here:
- Carrie Morrison, the first female admitted as a solicitor in 1922
- Helena Normanton, the first woman to be a member of an Inn of Court, practice at the bar, and in 1949, one of the first 2 women to take silk
- Elizabeth Lane, the first female judge in 1962
-Baroness Patricia Scotland, first black woman to be appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1991
- Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond, first female Supreme Court Justice in 2017
- Stephanie Boyce, first black female President of the Law Society, in 2021.
With so much progress, it seems surprising that "the first female" is still a headline. There will come a day where women reaching top positions in law won't make the news; until then, we have a lot of work to do.