In 1903, Bertha Cave had her application to be admitted as a Bar student at Gray's Inn rejected because she was a woman. She was the first woman to ever have made an application to the Bar. Now, 116 years on, The Right Hon Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE serves as President of The Supreme Court.
The Dickson Poon School of Law welcomed Baroness Hale to King’s on Wednesday 20 March to address the subject of 100 years of women in legal practice. In her lecture, she described how Bertha Cave's then shocking application was a catalyst in ensuring that women were able to practise law.
Using her description of the discrimination Bertha Cave faced as a starting point for her lecture, Baroness Hale traced the progress women have made in the legal profession over the last century. The work of pioneers like Margaret Howie Strang Hall, Christabel Pankhurst and Ivy Williams were also discussed, throwing light on some of the lesser known figures in this often-neglected history.
The women celebrated in Baroness Hale’s lecture all served to further the role of women in the legal profession, with Ivy Williams being the first woman to be called to the English Bar in May 1922, while both Margaret Howie Strang Hall and Christabel Pankhurst – the daughter of the suffragette, Emmeline Pankhurst – were both denied access to the profession in Scotland and England, respectively, despite the conviction they showed in making this discrimination a public issue.
A transcript of the lecture is available to download here.
Women in Legal Practice: The Centenary
Baroness Hale’s lecture is the first in what will be a series designed to celebrate the role of women in the legal profession. Professor Gillian Douglas, The Executive Dean of The Dickson Poon School of Law, described the event as an important milestone for a law school focused on celebrating inclusion and diversity in all aspects of legal practice.
“As a world leading law school focused on offering a service to society through all that we do, we believe it is so important to understand the discrimination women have faced historically in the legal profession,” Professor Douglas said. “We hope that this lecture series can go some way towards helping our students understand how far the legal profession has come and how much they can achieve.”
Professor Elaine Player, Vice Dean for Students, Culture and Community, also hailed the event as a "historic moment" for the School.
"The event allowed us to celebrate the centenary of women in the legal profession with the first President of the Supreme Court and the first woman to be appointed as Dean of the Law School at King’s," Professor Player said, referencing Professor Gillian Douglas's appointment as Executive Dean in 2017. "Lady Hale’s lecture reflected on a century of landmark victories established by determined women lawyers in the face of strong resistance. But, despite their magnificent efforts, the 100-year journey to gender equality has progressed slowly and still remains some distance from its destination."
About Baroness Hale
Brenda Marjorie Hale, Lady Hale of Richmond, took up appointment as President of The Supreme Court in September 2017. This followed her appointment as Deputy President from June 2013. In October 2009 she became the first woman Justice of The Supreme Court. In January 2004, Lady Hale also became the United Kingdom’s first woman Lord of Appeal in Ordinary after a varied career as an academic lawyer, law reformer, and judge. Baroness Hale is also a Visiting Professor at The Dickson Poon School of Law.