Women barristers make up 29 per cent of the Victorian bar, but new data published by the state’s Supreme Court shows that this proportion is not fairly represented among advocates who had a speaking role or appeared as juniors in appeal cases in the last 12 months.
Victorian Bar president Jennifer Batrouney QC responded to the “very disappointing” figures, saying that they indicated “there is clearly a long way to go before briefing is equitable in respect of gender”. She called out the numbers of women advocates in the civil jurisdiction as especially disappointing.
Women barristers had speaking roles in only 6 per cent of Victorian civil appeals hearings in 2016-17 and they made up less than 15 per cent of practitioners with junior roles. Of those civil cases, 161 were initiated and 177 were finalised in the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal.
While women are still not proportionately represented among advocates in Victoria’s criminal division, the numbers bear out closer to reality by comparison. In 2016-17, women barristers made up less than 22 per cent of advocates with a speaking role and less than 23 per cent appeared as juniors.
The findings come six months after results from a similar survey of appearances in the High Court of Australia were released for the 2015-16 period.
Ms Batrouney said the latest figures made the case for ongoing equitable briefing initiatives. She added that there was a need for collective commitment to close the gender gap.
The Victorian Bar’s Commercial Bar Association developed and implemented its own targeted equitable briefing practices for commercial matters in 2015. Ms Batrouney added that the first report to come from that program suggested there was more work to be done at the senior level and that the latest Court of Appeal statistics endorsed this view.
“We need to build on that success by encouraging more law firms, corporate and government organisations to take on the responsibility to effect change. I hope to be able to replicate this program in other practice areas at the Bar,” Ms Batrouney said.
“Barristers and barristers’ clerks are part of the solution in ensuring they recommend women as well as male barristers when approached for referrals. However, the power of government briefing agencies, firms and in-house counsel in this equation cannot be underestimated.”
The Victorian Bar is signatory to the Law Council of Australia’s equitable briefing policy.
“The early results of the Equitable Briefing Initiative show that with committed, strong leadership, positive change can be affected,” Ms Batrouney said.