Deputy EditorSolicitors Journal

QC identifies 'gender brief gap'

QC identifies 'gender brief gap'

Jaime Hamilton QC has called out “sexism” in the appointment of lawyers to high-profile cases

Manchester-based criminal silk Jaime Hamilton has spoken out over clear “sexism” in the appointment of lawyers to high-profile cases.

Hamilton, a barrister at Nine St John Street Chambers, was appointed Queens Counsel (QC) in 2019.

In a blog post titled The Gender Brief Gap published this weekend, he said that since becoming a QC and consequently being instructed on “serious” cases he has noticed that female counsel are notably underrepresented.

“There is a gender brief gap. Men are disproportionately briefed in the “serious” cases that involve murder, guns, drugs and fraud”, he said.

He said that of the case trials he had conducted in the last 18 months, only 12% of other counsel were women, adding that if you excluded the one sex case, that number fell to just 8%.

Furthermore, he said that not one of the cases had included a female QC. Of work he has in the pipeline, he estimates there are 58 counsel involved with just two women, one in a sex case and one in a baby shaking case.

He acknowledged that retention of female barristers was an issue but contended that the attrition rate did not explain the disparity he had witnessed.

“This is not a question of there not being females available to conduct these cases because there are. Plenty of them”, he said.

“In general terms it is clearly a problem that can correctly be labeled sexism. That sexism may be the attitudes of others (clients wanting a male barrister), structural (women are pigeonholed into sex cases), ingrained (courtrooms packed with men are the norm in these cases) or overt, direct sexism.”

Hamilton called for greater awareness of the issue in order for a solution to be found and argued that “organisations need to be accountable for what happens”.

In a bid for greater transparency he suggested that solicitors and barristers should be required to keep and publish data on the instruction of advocates.

In a comment responding to the blog post, Helen Mountfield QC from Matrix Chambers, said: “There is a duty on chambers to monitor gender balance in receipt of instructions (Bar Council) and to turn down requests for a male or female brief (Equality Act 2010).

“There is a duty on solicitors not to discriminate in instructing (Equality Act 2010). The problem is proving in individual cases that this is what has happened.”

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