About the AWB
The Association of Women Barristers was founded in 1991 to monitor and represent the interests of women at the English Bar. In the interim the landscape of the Bar has changed significantly. However, in many more significant ways little has really changed for women at the Bar although misleading statistics indicate that there have been minor, cosmetic, advances which lull the unwary into a false sense of security: men and women are now obtaining pupillages in almost 50:50 parity – women slightly ahead in most years; success in obtaining tenancies is almost as good for women.
However the retention rate after 5 years, or, worse, after 10, is an entirely different story. It is still a huge obstacle to success for women in general at the Bar whom the AWB seeks particularly to represent, monitor conditions for and support generally (disregarding the relatively small number of star performers who are honourable exceptions and blaze their own trails entirely on their own).
The identifiable problems we try to keep under review include: return to Chambers after maternity leave or other career break which remains a significant hurdle to clear for many; the concentration of women barristers in crime and family law which means they are disproportionately vulnerable to public funding cuts; statistics on judicial appointments which show a steadily rising percentage of women’s participation but which is largely confined to the lower judiciary; the representation of women in the annual silks list from which the higher judiciary come, which has (it is true) increased since silk appointments were resumed, nevertheless mask the fact that there is still only one woman in the Supreme Court (our former President, Baroness Hale of Richmond) and that there is still only a small select group of women Lords Justice in the Court of Appeal.
Accordingly, never has the AWB been more necessary. Our participation in succeeding consultations which slowly achieved these advances was directly responsible fro changing the surface culture (most importantly in the Lord Chancellor’s Working Party on the Judicial Appointments and Silk which started the ball rolling in our favour) but, as the American Chair of the International Bar Association’s Judges Forum commented at the IBA’s annual conference in Madrid last October, much of these advances are close to tokenism. “The battle is not yet won and it is dangerously misleading to imagine that it is.”
The AWB therefore exists to offer mentoring, to share experiences of women who have stayed at the Bar through thick and thin, to provide guidance, support, information, workshops, companionship on social occasions, and to keep a watching brief over events that affect women at the self-employed and employed Bars.