[First published in "THE CIRCUITEER" 47 edition Dec 2019]
Certainly the surroundings prompted my thoughts. What could we do to make life better for one another – how could we set the standard? Since becoming Wellbeing Director for the Criminal Bar Association I am a little saddened by how hard the job has become for the bar and bench alike. For the CBA and Circuit alongside our indefatigable administrator Aaron Dolan, I try to organise events where both criminal barristers and criminal judges can meet and swap experiences from our diet of depressing and heavy caseloads. I am convinced if we were able to better support each other that is the best way forward and happily there are many judges willing to engage. How this affects women and men is something we have been exploring. Our feedback from these events has been really positive, and surely something positive for the bar must be a good thing?
So I came up with ‘10 principles’ for the criminal bar. Why did I dream up the 10 principles for our profession in a primary school last week? Certainly not because I want to play headteacher but because I thought it really wouldn’t take much to make our jobs better: all we would need to do would be to sign up to the following:
- Be polite
- Be respectful
- Be kind
- Be thoughtful
- Be professional
- Never shout
- Keep calm
- Help others
- Treat others with unconditional positive regard
If we set the standard I am convinced that others would follow and that all of us would feel more valued and happier in the workplace.
As a woman at the bar how have I progressed? Trial and error – what works for some doesn’t necessarily work for others. By being honest about how hard it can be in conversation with colleagues, and by trying to be kind to myself which is always a work in progress. Ultimately for men and women the job is 24-7. Some people have a partner to help with the rest of life, others cope admirably as a single parent as my mother did years ago. Can we change things? Yes. The ‘wellbeing at the bar’ working group slowly but surely is making positive steps to improve things for the bar. Conversations which we didn’t have before we now have with senior leaders. I am proud to see many of my female friends and colleagues in silk and becoming judges, but I know the sacrifices many have made to do so. What worries me is in a world of austerity we will lose the gains we have made. Women leaving to take jobs where they will be valued and better supported is all too common.
A life as a self employed barrister has no HR department, no sick pay, no holiday pay and no maternity pay. We have nevertheless alongside our male colleagues worked hard for a job we love but the pressures on all of us cause many to say it’s not worth it and so we lose women at the top and on their way to the top. That is what I hear so many women tell me – that they are not sure how much longer they can stay on.
So if we sign up to the 10 principles then we need the senior Judiciary to help us by settling fixed court sitting hours, email etiquette and the abolition of warned lists or floaters because no one can afford to prepare a trial for only £55. We are reaching out because the profession wants to ensure future diversity but we all need to agree on a few things that will allow women the opportunity to continue to rise through ranks. Speaking out is not easy when it’s personal but in our job we know that a more diverse voice can be a powerful force for change.