The president of the UK Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, has called for a culture change in the legal profession until it is ”just as acceptable for men to look after children as it is for women.”
Speaking at a lecture last night (11 February) organised by the University of East London’s law clinic, Lord Neuberger commented on gender diversity within the profession, saying that many of the problems faced by women in law “arised from the fact that many of the law firms and barristers chambers require virtually 24/7 commitment from their lawyers, and lawyers with family and other responsibilities almost inevitably work less and therefore don’t carry the same heft and aren’t seen as important as those sad people who have no life but their work.”
”In our society of course it’s far more common for women to have the family responsibilities, so what is needed is a change of culture, which is easy to say but quite hard to achieve.”
He added that pressure from clients could prove effective, saying that in the United States some large companies will not use law firms unless they are satisfied that they promote women and ethnic minorities.
He also said: “I think also that in order to improve things, it’s not just a question of concentrating upon women… it is just as necessary to concentrate on men. Until it becomes entirely unremarkable for men to take an equal share of caring responsibility there is little hope of creating genuine equality of opportunity. We must foster a culture which renders it just as acceptable for men to look after children and look after the house as it is for women.”
In a wide-ranging speech covering legal education, diversity within the profession, the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), Lord Neuberger also said that the Convention has been beneficial to UK.
”I think in general the developments attributable to the ECHR coming into English law have been beneficial,” he said. ”Of course there will be arguments as to whether some decisions of the Strasbourg court are right, and there will be some arguments about whether some of our decisions are right.”
”But the rights which are embodied in the Convention are fundamental to the rule of law, and as you have have an ever-increasingly powerful government and a very strong executive arm of government with millions of civil servants, local authority officals and so on, the growing power of the executive means that judges have to stand up for enforcing individual rights against wrongdoing by the executive.
“I’m not pretending that we have public servants who are corrupt, dishonest or wicked, but it is inevitable that with such an enormous number of public servants, individual rights will be trampled on – sometimes by mistake, sometimes by oversight, sometimes by carelessness and sometimes, I dare say, by intention. The people who protect against this are the judges.”