AS IF statistics pointing to sexual discrimination against senior female members of the profession weren’t enough to send lawyers into damage control last week.
On the very day the Victorian Bar began digesting findings that women barristers were not receiving a fair share of briefs from solicitors, the New South Wales Court of Appeal was handed a special form of recognition in the arena of sexist behaviour.
Justice Roddy Meagher scooped the Court a special slice of acclaim by winning an ‘Ernie’ Award for allegedly sexist remarks uttered over the past 12 months.
The comment responsible for lifting His Honour into the limelight was taken from the November 2002 case of State of NSW v Coffey, during which Meagher described inhabitants of an apartment block as a “motley crew”.
“Many of them had psychiatric disorders,” his judgment stated. “Some of them had been patients at institutions. Some were addicted to drugs or alcohol, or both. Most of them were foreigners, and many of them were female.”
The eleventh staging of the annual ceremony, held on 21 August 2003 to highlight sexist behaviour, attracted four nominees in the judicial category, including former High Court Chief Justice Harry Gibbs, Victorian Bar Council president Robert Redlich and former detective Roger Rogerson.
But Meagher was always the warm favourite to win because, unlike the others, he boasted a double chance. His response to the fact no women currently occupy the bench of the High Court was also earmarked.
“If you find a woman who is No. 1 in the merit list, of course she should be appointed, but there is no such person.”
An estimated 400 women attended the glittering affair, all of whom were responsible for determining the winners according to the volume of boos recorded in response to each candidate’s nominated grab.