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SA addresses bar gender imbalance

SA addresses bar gender imbalance


The South Australian courts have gained approval for a program aimed at boosting the number of female barristers.

Last week the state's Equal Opportunity Tribunal ruled that the Step Up to the Bar program could proceed.The new program is an annual full-time opportunity open to experienced female lawyers to work closely with the Supreme Court judiciary on complex cases.

Under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, organisations must seek an exemption before advertising a position exclusively to women.

The hope is the program will raise the proportion of female barristers in South Australia. More than half South Australia's lawyers are women, but women represent only 24 per cent of barristers and 20.5 of silks.

“For several decades an equal number of women and men have graduated from our law schools,” said the Chief Justice of South Australia, Chris Kourakis (pictured).

“We can no longer assume proportionate representation will balance out over time. We need to take a focused approach to boosting the number of women candidates for appointment to higher positions.”

SA Bar Association president Andrew Harris QC said the program will provide another pathway for women who are interested in a career at the bar to gain experience. 

“The SA Bar Association is conscious of the fact that women at the bar face difficulties in maintaining continuity of professional relationships (with solicitors and silks) if they interrupt their careers to raise a family.

“This is an important initiative, because it is a recognition that something needs to be done to address the structural imbalance created for women by discontinuity of careers.”

While most SA silks are committed to including females as juniors in litigation to address structural disadvantages, it is often difficult for women at the junior bar to secure briefs in complex commercial litigation, Mr Harris said.

Gaining exposure to complex cases through the Step Up to the Bar program will build this experience, he said.

“Although the [women in this program] would not be involved in a complex matter for one of the parties, they will have the exposure to such cases by being in court with the judge who is hearing them. 

“This builds experience by observation and will, I imagine, be supplemented by the special mentoring.”

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