First Lady Chief Justice for England and Wales

This post was contributed by Ms Charlotte Crilly, Module Convenor for Legal system and method.

Legal history has been made with the swearing in of the first Lady Chief Justice, Dame Sue Carr. As Lady Chief Justice, Dame Sue Carr will be the President of the Courts of England and Wales and Head of the Judiciary. She is the 98th person to take this role, and the first woman, her predecessors all being Lord Chief Justice. She was sworn in on 2 October, following the retirement of the previous Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon.

The role of Lord Chief Justice in its modern form dates back to 1873 and encompasses around 400 statutory duties. As well as being head of the judiciary, the Lord or Lady Chief Justice represents the views of the judges to Parliament and the government, and is responsible for the welfare, training and guidance of judges and magistrates.

What does this new appointment mean for judicial diversity? The Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos said on the appointment of the new Lady Chief Justice that “we should be careful not to be complacent. A milestone, however notable, on a long road is not the end of a journey. Work remains for us all to make our judiciary as diverse and as inclusive as it should be.”

The latest annual judicial diversity statistics, published in July, show that women now constitute 42% of all judges, although they are underrepresented among the more senior judiciary. In the courts, women make up only 30% of judges in more senior posts (High Court and above). Among County Court judges, 45% are women. In comparison to judges, a higher proportion of magistrates are women; the diversity statistics show that 57% of them are female.

The percentage of women occupying high positions in the courts therefore drops significantly as you go further up the court system. In the Supreme Court, there is now only one female Justice, Lady Rose, although it has recently been announced that Lady Justice Simler will join the Court in November. As Lady Hale, the former President of the Supreme Court has argued, as women make up half of the population, they “should be half of judges at least”. The appointment of Dame Sue Carr as the new Lady Chief Justice marks at least a symbolic step in the right direction.

Further reading

Courts and Tribunals Judiciary, “Dame Sue Carr sworn in as Lady Chief Justice“ (last accessed 16 October 2023).

Supreme Court, “New appointment to the UK Supreme Court”.

One comment

  1. Congratulations to Lady Chief Justice, Dame Sue Carr. This is indeed a huge milestone and a step towards the right direction.

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