Barrister Justine Thornton says sexism still a problem for women lawyers at Camden school talk
15:44 12 March 2014
Top lawyer Justine Thornton – wife of Labour leader Ed Miliband – has spoken out about sexism in the legal professions at a talk to schoolchildren to mark International Women’s Week.
Ms Thornton, an environmental barrister, said she realised how important it was to have events dedicated to women’s issues as, after 20 years in law, she attended her first court case where all the legal professionals involved were women only this month.
She became even more convinced after overhearing a court clerk say that the case should be named “the battle of the babes”.
Ms Thornton, who lives with Mr Miliband in Dartmouth Park, made the comments at a legal careers event for 12 and 13-year-olds at all-girl Parliament Hill School, in Highgate Road, on Friday, the day before International Women’s Day.
“When I was thinking about what to say to you all, I wasn’t sure if we needed a women’s week,” she told the group of 40 Year 8 girls.
“There are quite a lot of female lawyers and 176 female QCs have been appointed as of last year, a lot better than the two female QCs appointed in 1949 – the first time women were appointed.
“But then you realise that 1,034 men have been appointed as QCs and that in the last 65 years, only 15 per cent of the top barristers in the country are women.”
Ms Thornton, along with seven other female lawyers, took it in turns to speak to tables of pupils on the last day of the school’s Women of the World Week.
Each group had about eight minutes to ask the women how they got into law and what their jobs entail, before the lawyers moved to a different table at the speed-networking session.
Margaux Pignet-Mayer, 13, said: “It was kind of inspiring to meet them and it has given me a lot of ideas about how it all works.”
The session was hosted by charity Inspiring the Future, a free service that organises visits by professionals to state schools to talk about their jobs.
Anna Peduzzi, deputy headteacher, said: “The idea is that we are extending our careers education and provision across Years 7, 8, 9 and upwards.
“We wanted to inspire the Year 8 girls and to give them an understanding of a wide range of professions and we want them to experience it by having women in powerful positions big them up.”