Exchange Chambers celebrates International Women’s Day 2020

March 17, 2020

To inspire conversation and raise awareness, Exchange Chambers celebrated International Women’s Day 2020 by asking barristers to describe a positive experience of gender equality/female empowerment at the Bar and steps that could be made in the future to create a positive difference.

Here’s what they said:

Here in Liverpool we have a number of richly talented criminal barristers, including an increasing number of brilliant female barristers. We are lucky to be supported by strong and loyal solicitors and judges, including Siobhan Blake (Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Mersey-Cheshire) and HHJ Louise Brandon, both of whom enthused us all when they spoke at the recent launch of the ‘Women in Criminal Law North West’ launch.
We have two other hugely supportive female judges, HHJ Rachel Smith and HHJ Sophie McKone.
Life at the criminal bar is ever more challenging but individually we can all succeed. I have been lucky to have had the opportunity to be involved in serious cases of all different types and I would encourage all women to believe that they can do the same. With each other’s support, we can fight stereotypes.”
Nicola Daley, Criminal Barrister

It was an honour to share a platform with so many inspirational women.
This year marks a momentous anniversary for our legal system – 100 years since the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which paved the way for women in this country to become lawyers for the first time.
This event celebrated those women of past, present and future.”
Charlotte Atherton, Criminal Barrister

I was called to the Bar in 1992 and have always practiced criminal law. For most of my career multi handed trials have involved male colleagues and a male Judge with comments from the bench of “anything else gentlemen?” or “thank you gentlemen”. I am currently in a case where 4 of the 5 counsel are women, the Judge is a woman, the senior officer, reviewing lawyer, case worker and court clerk are women. The case doesn’t involve children or sexual offences – it’s such a refreshing and positive change.
Anya Horwood, Criminal Barrister

International Women’s Day is about changing the way the world perceives the strength of women, and every time a woman stands up, and breaks down a barrier, she is doing that for us all.
As any pupil will tell you starting pupillage is a daunting experience, probably even more so when you are a female pupil joining a male dominated practice area, like the commercial Bar. However, any such worries quickly vanished when I carried out a ‘quick’ search on my supervisor – she is an inspiration, not just for her career as a barrister, but in life and in breaking down barriers at the Bar.
In 2019/2020 Chambers welcomed four female pupils, two of those four being commercial pupils; seeing a leading set like Exchange recognise, recruit and work towards bridging the gender gap particularly at the commercial Bar is amazing. It is a privilege to be a part of a Chambers who embraces equality, whether that be gender, ethnic or social!
Katherine Traynor, Commercial Pupil

For me, I’ve never felt like “a female barrister”. I’m just a barrister.
I’m a barrister, an advocate, a professional; nobody needs to acknowledge that I’m also a woman.”
Helen Rutherford, Personal Injury Barrister

When I first returned from maternity leave I was still breastfeeding and needed somewhere to pump milk for my baby at lunchtimes. Initial enquiries with the court about where I might do this met with confusion, and the suggestion that I use an accessible toilet cubicle… Then a member of court office staff took it upon herself to find me a clean, private room, and to meet me each lunchtime to escort me there. Her kindness really made my return so much easier.
It may have seemed like a small thing, but things like this, and supportive clerking really do make a difference when it comes to retaining women (and other primary carers) at the Bar.”
Catherine Knowles, Employment and Personal Injury Barrister

My areas of practices – personal injury, clinical negligence and mental capacity – have been shaped by a handful of the brightest and best female barristers. Each would be unrecognisable without trailblazers such as Baroness Brenda Hale, Dame Janet Smith and Dame Caroline Swift, whilst former Exchange Chambers member, Mrs Justice Yip, is among those now deciding cases at the cutting edge of the law’s development. These amazing women have been and remain my legal heroes and continue to inspire my work on behalf of injured and vulnerable people.
Hopefully, in greater number and with deserved recognition, the present and future female stars of the Bar will continue in this strong tradition to the considerable benefit of society as a whole.”
Matthew Stockwell, Personal Injury Barrister

It was good to witness my first head of chambers John Kay QC, later Lord Justice Kay, set up our first maternity leave provisions in 1990. He was very positive and our chambers were one of the first to have formal maternity provision. You need to let female barristers know that they are valued and supported to keep women at the Bar. I have had four children and even I forget how ‘hands on’ little children are!
I would like to see a rethink in the flexible court times trial. I am really concerned that this will impact upon working parents and disproportionately affect working mums. People need to organise child care and get to and from court. Later court sittings will mean people may miss the chance to see their children altogether in the working day or rule themselves out of this work.
Rebecca Clark, Personal Injury Barrister

“Shortly after getting on my feet I prosecuted a sentence – the hearing ran completely normally, sentence was passed, and the Judge stood up to leave. As she did, she paused and cheerily observed that both counsel, the representative from probation, the CPS caseworker, the court clerk and the usher were all women. She then turned to the dock officer and joked that he was lucky to be in our midst. It really tickled me and is one of my fondest memories of pupillage – I feel reassured to know that the criminal bar is full of talented and supportive women challenging the stereotypes in our field and supporting one another.”
Alexandra Sutton, Barrister

Exchange Chambers are proud to support International Women’s Day an to promote a positive and supportive community for both barristers and staff, and to encourage a collaborative culture.

We have long championed equality and diversity at the Bar.

International Women’s Day been observed since the early 1900s and is now recognised each year on 8 March. It is not affiliated with any one group, but brings together governments, women’s organisations, corporations and charities. The day is marked around the world with arts performances, talks, rallies, networking events, conferences and marches.