Women judges on the rise


LAW UPDATE:FIGURES JUST released by the Courts Service show that 27.4 per cent of judges are female, a figure that compares well internationally. This comes at a time when the three highest State legal officers – the Attorney General, the Chief State Solicitor and the Director of Public Prosecutions – are women, and the Bar Council reports record numbers of women entering the barristers’ profession.

In New Zealand the figure for female judges is 26 per cent, rising to 28 per cent of those appointed in the last five years. In Northern Ireland about 30 per cent of county court judges are female and about 24 per cent of full-time district judges in the Magistrate’s Courts are female. At the tiers below, female representation is closer to 40-50 per cent.

In the UK, 37 per cent of judges in the tribunal service are women, yet women make up just 19.4 per cent of the judiciary in total. Research in Italy, where 60 per cent of new judicial appointees are women, shows them still being restricted to the lower ranks. The same is true of the Netherlands. If there is a gender glass ceiling, it seems to be at the highest level.

Twenty years ago in early 1992 in Ireland there were no women in the Supreme Court or Circuit Court. Of the High Court judges, two of the 18 or 12.5 per cent were women and four of the 50 District Court judges, or 8.7 per cent, were female. In all less than 8 per cent of the judiciary was female.

However by 2002, 19 per cent of the judiciary were female. The Supreme Court had two women, making up 25 per cent of its members. The High Court had three women amongst its then 28 members or 11 per cent – a drop in representation. The 26 per cent of female Circuit Court judges counted for eight of the 31 members and in the District Court 10 of the 53 members represented a 19 per cent female makeup.

The latest figures from the Courts Service show that the Supreme Court now has one female member, the Chief Justice, Mrs Justice Denham. There was a short period in the past decade when three, or 33 per cent, of the then members were female, and all female sittings of the Supreme Court occurred. In the High Court six of the 36 members are female, 17 per cent.

The Circuit Court has 37 per cent female representation, 14 out of 38. In the District Court almost 30 per cent, or 19 out of 64, are female and the president of that court is Judge Rosemary Horgan.