Working paper

Gender and seniority of counsel before the UK’s highest court

Work in progress

Published by the Counsel (March 2022): online version.

Covered in Jonathan Ames and Catherine Baksi, ‘Karen Monaghan, QC, attacks gender bias in Supreme Court’ The Times (London, 24 October 2019)

Project website »

This article presents the results of an empirical study into gender and seniority of counsel who appeared before the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords and the Supreme Court from 1970 to 2020. It uses a new unique dataset on litigation before the UK’s highest court, including 5,041 lawyers and 2,714 judgments. Unlike previous studies, this article doesn’t offer just a short snapshot but looks at trends over time. It finds that the gender balance among counsel in the highest court is improving seemingly more quickly than in the reference population of self employed barristers. Moreover, there are some very optimistic signs regarding appearances of the most junior counsel. However, gender balance among the more senior counsel is not as good and has not been clearly improving over the most recent years, which matters because counsel with more experience before the highest court dominate litigation in that court. The unprecedented representation of women among the most junior counsel in the Supreme Court gives nevertheless a reason to believe that the situation will improve also among the more senior counsel.