There have been many best days and winning a difficult case for a client who has put their trust in you is always a best day. But the most recent best day was the day of my appointment as an appellate judge as this was difficult to envisage when I first started to study law. It is an important position for the development of the law and a privilege to hold such an office.
What do you think is the greatest challenge for women looking to access justice in the UK?
It is important that the laws which provide the framework for the justice system reflect the views and ideas which women support and consider important. A legislature and institutions dominated by men, as in the past, cannot be the model for the future and I expect to see more change. There will be many different views and no necessary consensus but as many women as possible should be involved as this is so important to our democratic process. It is essential to have a system where all citizens are assisted by education and, if necessary legal aid, to access the courts and tribunals which are designed to adjudicate about their rights and responsibilities.
Looking back on your career, how far do you think the UK has come towards gender parity in the legal profession?
There has been significant change. When I was a student there were very few women studying law, probably less than 10 present. There were even fewer working in the profession and no women judges in the Court of Session, which is the Supreme Court in Scotland. All that has changed and the entry to the legal profession in Scotland is now reasonably equal as between men and women. The legal profession is demanding and often difficult for both men and women but there are many opportunities and many women are demonstrating an ability to succeed in all areas and at all levels.
Who, or what, inspires you most and why?
Aung San Suu Kyi is inspirational. She has been fearless and long suffering in her commitment to democratic peaceful change.
What have you discovered during your career – as an advocate, on the bench, beside government and as a legislator – which you would have benefitted from knowing as a student?
There is some tension I think between studying law as a student and applying the law in practice. It is necessary to acquire knowledge of the principles and framework of the law but the years of study are an opportunity to consider more philosophical questions such as the relationship of law and morality, and other issues including the legislative process in parliament and the impact of laws in society. I regret now the time I spent learning “black letter” law but none of the time I spent debating and considering issues which had little obvious relevance to the intricacies of the Sale of Goods Act or equivalent legislation. It is these wider general issues which have been important to me at all stages of my career.
Join us on 19 March 2016 for our Annual Student Conference to hear Andrea Coomber, Director of JUSTICE, in conversation with Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty. Sign up now.