Women call for death of Bar's 'old boy' network

THE “OLD boy” network of public school and Oxbridge-educated white male barristers is being targeted for extinction by leading women and ethnic minority barristers in submissions to the Parliamentary Home Affairs Select committee.

The Association of Women Barristers (AWB) calls for sweeping reforms in its submission to the hearing on judicial appointments.

It wants to see the calls for abolition of the system of “secret soundings”, which the association says is the “old boy network” in action.

Women are even excluded from the chance to meet judges socially on circuit, when judges who are hearing cases dine with male barristers in men-only clubs, it says.

The association calls for the advertisement of all judicial vacancies from the House of Lords down.

Currently, High Court posts and upwards are filled by “invitation only”.

It wants reform selection criteria. In particular, the AWB wants abolition of the requirements for extensive advocacy experience and of the convention that High Court judges must be QCs.

The latter requirement discriminates against women, because there are very few women silks. Detailed reasons for rejection must be given, it says.

Barbara Hewson, AWB vice chair, says: “Unless more women are appointed, women barristers will get disillusioned and public confidence in the judiciary will decline.”

The Society of Asian Lawyers chair, Sailesh Mehta, says there are currently no ethnic minority judges in the higher courts at all.

He comments: “There is a feeling in the profession that if you do not happen to fit a

preconceived stereotype – namely, white, public school, Oxbridge, middle class and male – your chances of elevation to the bench are greatly diminished.

“If you’re a woman, too bad. If you’re a black, forget it.”