Raana Zahmatkesh

The International Association of Women Judges Biennial conference was held in Auckland in 2021. In the conference, a variety of topics such as equality and access to justice, women judges on final courts, and gender equality were discussed. This report centres on Baroness Brenda Hale's views on judicial leadership issues.

Baroness Brenda Hale, Former President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, explained the challenges she faced as a women judge. In the United Kingdom, the judges of the higher courts are chosen among people who have working experience in the legal profession as barristers. That is why the appointment of Baroness Hale, an academic lawyer, and law reformer, was an unusual decision. Having an uncommon background, she had to persuade others that she is a qualified judge.

Lady Hale also talked about the working culture of the legal profession. She highlighted the necessity of changing the profession to suit people with caring responsibilities. Brenda Hale criticized the “jacket on the back of the chair” syndrome. It refers to the perspective that requires people to spend a lot of time in the office even if they are not necessarily productive. She pointed out that during the pandemic, people learned how to do a job differently. Hence, Pandemic provided a great opportunity to change the traditional perspective on long working hours.

Baroness Brenda Hale recommended three strategies to diversify the judiciary. Firstly, the judicial appointment system should be merit-based, genuinely open, and transparent. Secondly, women from all walks of legal life should be encouraged to apply for a judicial position, and finally, appointing bodies should recognize merit in all walks of legal life wherever it may be found. She stressed that “the best advocates do not necessarily make the best judges.”

Regarding access to justice and providing legal aid for people, she touched upon two important issues. Firstly she pointed out the importance of free legal aid services. People need someone to familiarize them with their rights, the solutions to their legal problems, and talk to someone who can solve the problem for them.  

Secondly, she discussed the necessity of user-friendly legal processes. She suggested designing a portal where users could log in, submit their claims, be told what information to provide, and be guided through the process. This portal can prevent the endless procedural defects that inevitably occur when people are acting by themselves.

The IAWJ biennial conference was a great opportunity to discuss issues that are of key concern. Baroness Brenda Hale provided novel insights into the challenges of female judges, the legal profession working culture, methods to ensure access to justice, and strategies to diversify the judiciary. This conference was a fruitful ground to share multiple perspectives about mutual problems in different jurisdictions and fashion new solutions to resolve them.