The Inns of Court Alliance for Women

An Alliance of Purpose

The Inns of Court Alliance for Women (ICAW), an all-Inns collaboration led by me for The Inner Temple and fellow co-convenors; Her Honour Judge Khatun Sapnara representing Middle Temple; Lady Justice Nicola Davies representing Gray’s Inn; and Chief Chancery Master Karen Schuman representing Lincoln’s Inn, has continued to build on the work of the Temple Women’s Forum in being live to issues affecting women in the profession and to strengthen links with friends and colleagues in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

On 21 March, the Alliance tackled the issue of judicial bullying, a concern confined not only to women. We were honoured that the former Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon agreed to be the keynote speaker at our panel discussion at Gray’s Inn to talk about the measures he has taken to deal with judicial bullying. The panel discussion that followed was chaired by Amanda Pinto KC, a former Chair of the Bar, and attended in person and remotely by practitioners from across the United Kingdom and legal practitioners working in India, the Bahamas and South Africa.

The event was introduced by The Rt Hon Lady Justice Nicola Davies DBE, Treasurer of Gray’s Inn and ICAW Co-Convenor, and the distinguished panel included The Rt Hon Lady Justice Ingrid Simler (Chair of the Diversity Committee of the Judges Council), Natasha Wong KC (5KBW), Laurie-Anne Power KC (25 Bedford Row) and Sam Mercer (Head of Policy: Equality & Diversity and CSR of the General Council of the Bar).

Acknowledging the need to tackle judicial bullying, the Lord Chief Justice said that nobody has been able to provide quantitative information about the extent of inappropriate behaviour by judges. That there is a problem cannot be denied, but he urged advocates on the receiving end of inappropriate behaviour to ‘call it out’ in order for something to be done about the problem. While there are systems in place for making official complaints, very rarely do they happen.

ICAW Panel Discussion on Judicial Bullying

Making a distinction between one-off intemperate behaviour and serial offending, the Lord Chief Justice said that a serial offender will be well known by those working in a court and urged advocates to bring behaviour that crosses the line to the attention of local leadership judges and Presiding Judges. The offender needs to know the effect of his or her behaviour on lawyers and witnesses. Though this can be intimidating for a junior practitioner, he recommended using someone more senior to help draw attention to the problem so that something can be done about it.

The Lord Chief Justice went on to talk about the measures being taken to improve the welfare offering to judges and the commissioning of mandatory training for judges to make them aware of the sort of behaviour that causes offence and to inculcate good practice. Rolling out this enormous task demonstrates commitment as well as the recently published Statement of Expected Behaviour for judges, a public document setting out the standards of behaviour expected from all judicial office holders in and outside the hearing room, with each other, staff and users. Judges should treat others fairly and equally; be mindful of their authority and not to abuse it; be aware of how words can affect others; be patient and tolerant; act professionally and with courtesy particularly under pressure and avoid shouting; ensure that no-one is the subject of bias or prejudice; build effective working relationships; welcome and support new colleagues; be open to feedback. The document makes a powerful statement to the judiciary and the world that the issue is taken with the utmost seriousness.

Introducing the panel discussion, Amanda Pinto KC thanked the Lord Chief Justice for taking this issue so seriously, evidenced by his presence and participation in the event. Citing the judicial oath “to do right to all manner of people … without fear or favour, affection or ill-will”, she said that ‘bullying’ is not defined in employment law, making it much more difficult to define especially as it is often a slow process of undermining or belittling behaviour. Recognising that context is important, the aim of the session was to concentrate on the route to positive improvement rather than dwelling on negative conduct which certainly exists.

Seeking to define bullying, panellists agreed that judicial bullying is not simply inappropriate behaviour; bullying on the bench is borne out of an imbalance of power that has the effect of belittling and the loss of confidence in the proper representation of a client due to the effect of bullying. This loss of confidence risks undermining the entire system of justice and will impact retention and diversity in the profession and the judiciary itself. Experiences of inequality and power imbalance experienced by women who are also in an ethnic minority are even more marked as evidenced by data gathered by the Bar Council and through Talk to Spot where anonymous complaints and experience can be logged for research analysis. Scientific evidence shows that a culture of stress has a real impact on health.

© Sally Penni

Subsequently, the Alliance held its annual networking Garden Party on 27 June 2023 with the Attorney-General as the guest speaker, as further described below. The event has become a very popular opportunity for barristers, solicitors, in-house lawyers, judges, legal academics and students to meet in an informal setting.

Looking Forward

Plans for the coming year include an event on 2 October 2023 at Middle Temple as part of Black History Month, led by Co-Convenor HHJ Khatun Sapnara to focus in particular on black women at the Bar to ensure their voices are heard because the data gathered by the Bar Council shows that they have the greatest disproportionate disadvantage in terms of their career progression and income.

Building on the session in 2022, Foundations for a Fairer Future, in response to the dispiriting report by the Bar Standards Board with quantitative evidence that the gender income gap has widened consistently over the last 20 years, despite an increase in the number of women barristers, the Alliance will be organising a follow-up event to coincide with International Women’s Day.

Though there remains much more to be done to improve equality, this year we celebrate and congratulate The Rt Hon Lady Justice Carr DBE on another hugely significant milestone; her appointment as the first female Lord Chief Justice of England & Wales. We look forward to working with her in the future and to welcoming her to the Alliance’s 2024 networking Garden Party at which she has kindly agreed to speak.

Attorney General celebrates women in law at ICAW Annual Celebration

Trailblazing women in law – both past and present – were celebrated by Attorney General Victoria Prentis KC as she dedicated her speech at the Inns of Court Alliance for Women’s Celebration to their achievements.

The Attorney was the keynote speaker at the event which took place on 27 June 2023 amongst the stunning backdrop of the Lincoln’s Inn gardens. She addressed more than 500 women, celebrating the achievements of the pioneering women over the past 100 years who have paved the way for women in the profession today.

Attorney General Victoria Prentis KC

The Attorney General said:

“Prior to 1919, women were barred from being professionals. Thankfully legislation was introduced to change that and within a few years, the legal profession began to change. By 1922, Dr Ivy Williams was called to the English bar and Carrie Morrison qualified as a solicitor – both landmark firsts.

“Over the years we have seen other trailblazers change the face of the legal profession. The world where judges, silks and pupil masters being dominated by men is disappearing. Diversity leads to better decisions, and this is something I have greatly benefited from in my own career.

“The Government Legal Department’s (GLD) progress is an example that should be upheld. The Treasury Solicitor is a woman, and she is supported by three female Director Generals. GLD is also leading the way in diversity and closing the gender pay gap.

“It is vital that we hold the profession to account for their policies and foster a culture of mutual support – to make sure we secure meaningful change. That is why the Inns of Court Alliance for Women is so important.

“We are still celebrating the important milestone of 100 years of women in law, and I want to congratulate all the women in this great profession of ours who continue to change the legal landscape – for the benefit of us all.”


Leigh-Ann Mulcahy KC
ICAW Co-Convenor
Fountain Court Chambers
Master of the Bench

For further information and for the full video recording of Tackling Judicial Bullying:

Talk to Spot:

Judicial Complaints Investigations Office:

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