The NSW Bar Association has announced the largest number of female barristers ever appointed as senior counsel on a single occasion.
Of the 26 barristers being raised to the senior ranks of the Bar, 12 are women.
Despite women barristers making up 19.7 per cent of the profession in NSW, last year only two of 24 appointees were female.
In 2010, four out of the 20 who were elevated were women.
President of the Women Lawyers’ Association of NSW, Rebecca Barry, said: “Whilst we are absolutely thrilled that these appointments increase the percentage of female silks from 6.7 per cent to 9.4 per cent, we still have a while to go statistically to narrow the gap.”
From the pool of 117 applications this year, 32 came from women and 85 came from men; 37.5 per cent of women applicants were successful, compared with a 16.5 per cent of male applicants.
Jane Needham SC said she was surprised and thrilled by this year’s list but that it was “a real pity that it’s a cause for comment”.
“It does make it unfortunate that, to the outside world, women who’ve done really well have to be a news story,” Needham told Lawyers Weekly.
The silk list is like the Melbourne Cup of the Bar year, said Needham, who has been at the bar for 22 years.
“Everyone has a view on who should win and who shouldn’t and everyone talks about it but that doesn’t meant that what everyone says is right,” she said.
From everything she knows about the protocols of the selection committee, Needham said there has not been any overt or underlying bias towards or against women, or any agenda to appoint more or less, in recent times.
She attributed the high number of female appointments to the quality of their applications and women increasingly “putting themselves forward” in a better way.
A significant unconscious bias against women in positions of authority, however, still plays into everything women do at the Bar, she said.
One of her male juniors is about to suggest that Needham be briefed as a leader, although she wasn’t the solicitor’s first choice, she explained. The solicitor requested a man – “someone who can cross-examine and who’ll be held in respect by the court”, said Needham.
“This young bloke called him out on it and said ‘well why should that be a man?’ and the solicitor, to his credit, said ‘well actually I see your point, have you got anyone in mind?’ That kind of awareness of the issue at both male and female level is really impressive,” she said, adding that, 20 years ago, she was much more likely to think ‘oh well, that’s the way it is, I’ll just work around it rather than against it’.
Needham said that she was in awe of the young men and women coming to the Bar today: their level of qualifications, overseas internship and associate experience.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick said that the latest silk list sends a very inspiring message to young women who may be considering the law as a career choice.
“It says that if you have the ability, commitment and talent, you can get to the top of your profession,” said Broderick.
The Australian Human Rights Commission’s new president, Gillian Triggs, sat on the selection committee this year.
The president of the Bar Association, Bernard Coles QC, on Friday (5 October) announced the names of the 26 appointees. The successful applicants for 2012, in order of their length of service at the bar, are:
Michael John Jenkins
Chrissa Tereasa Loukas
Geoffrey John Parker
Matthew Charles Leckie Dicker
Duncan Ewing Graham
Michael John Fordham
Elizabeth Anne Cheeseman
Miles Kevin Condon
Kylie Therese Nomchong
Carol Ann Webster
Julia Lily Ann Lonergan
Anthony John Mcinerney
Katherine Louise Eastman
Nicholas John Kidd
Thomas Michael Thawley
Kelly Anne Rees
Sarah Elizabeth Pritchard
Nicole Frances Noman
Michael Patrick Kearney
Natalie Jane Adams
John Hunter Pickering
Jennie Ann Girdham
Jacqueline Sarah Gleeson