Thursday, 12 November 2015

Action taken to address inequity facing women barristers in commercial litigation

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission launched a joint initiative alongside the Victorian Bar’s Commercial Bar Association (CommBar) and members of the Judiciary to target inequitable representation of Victorian women barristers in commercial litigation on Wednesday 11 November.

The initiative is the first time that leading law firms, governmental bodies and companies have made a commitment to a Gender Equitable Briefing Target based on number of briefs and also on value of briefs.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kate Jenkins said that the cultural practice of women being overlooked for briefs at the expense of men needs to be addressed.

Ms Jenkins said that this initiative is significant as some of Victoria’s most influential law firms are making a commitment to developing policies and practices that will not only encourage women to look at working in commercial litigation, but to make it a long-term career with complex work and opportunities for promotion, such as those that exist for their male counterparts.

“Gender discrimination in commercial litigation has been reported to manifest in allocation of different forms of work, women being denied access to opportunities, and being judged as less competent,” Ms Jenkins said.

“While there have been some efforts to improve this situation, progress has been to slow and often focused on what action women barristers might take to change the situation, rather than addressing briefing practices,” Ms Jenkins said.

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Marilyn Warren said that despite significant progress in the law, it remains unusual, even rare, for women advocates to appear before the higher courts, and rarer still for those women to be given speaking roles.

“Yet there are so many talented women at the Bar. So why overlook their potential? So long as they are overlooked, the community is missing out on valuable resources, said Chief Justice Warren.

Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Australia the Hon James Allsop said that equality and fairness are central values in the administration of justice and that they should also be central values in briefing practices.

“This initiative, and the commitment of major litigation firms operating in Victoria to new and more transparent briefing practices, and to briefing women counsel in proportions commensurate with their representation at the Commercial Bar, will give those values the prominence they deserve,” said Chief Justice Allsop.

President of the Victorian Bar James Peters QC said the Victorian Bar is proud of its continued commitment to diversity and inclusion and the initiatives it has implemented over a number of years in this area. This initiative distinguishes itself through the involvement and commitment across the profession, the judiciary, the Victorian Bar and leading law firms, to effect meaningful change.

“The Victorian Bar together with CommBar is determined to ensure that our best advocates have every opportunity to appear before the Courts and assist in the administration of justice. This is a concrete program to assist in achieving that end. We applaud CommBar for its leadership on this initiative and are extremely grateful to all participants for their important contribution,” said Mr Peters.

Leading law firms and organisations have signed up to a three year Charter of Commitment (2016–2019), in a collective attempt to achieve gender equitable briefing practices in commercial litigation.

The founding signatories to the Charter of Commitment include:

  • Arnold Bloch Leibler
  • Australian Securities & Investments Commission
  • Corrs Chambers Westgarth
  • Gilbert & Tobin
  • K & L Gates
  • Lander & Rogers
  • Maddocks
  • Norton Rose Fulbright
  • Slater and Gordon
  • Telstra
  • Victorian Government Solicitors Office

Find out more information about the intiative.

VEOHRC media contact: Anna Craig

Phone: (03) 9032 3482 | Mobile: 0447 526 642 | Email: anna.craig@veohrc.vic.gov.au