Writing for Scottish Legal News on International Women’s Day 2018, Vice-Dean of Faculty, Angela Grahame QC, discusses the advances of women at the Scottish bar.
I have the privilege and pleasure of crossing the magnificent Parliament Hall each day on my way in to work.
The walls of the Hall have many portraits of legal luminaries down the centuries. Until only a few years ago, all were men.
Then, it was decided that two portraits which were hanging in the Faculty of Advocates’ private Reading Room should be given much greater public prominence. Thus, the portraits of Dame Margaret Kidd and the Right Honourable Lady Cosgrove became the first of women to hang in the Hall.
How appropriate that these two trailblazing advocates should have this distinction added to their list.
Dame Margaret was the first female member of Faculty, calling in 1923. In a distinguished career of more than 50 years, she was the first woman in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth to take silk, in 1948. She was Keeper of the Library from 1956 to 1969 – the Faculty’s first female office-bearer – and served as Sheriff Principal of Dumfries and Galloway, and of Perth and Angus. She died in 1989.
Lady Cosgrove (Hazel Aronson) joined the Faculty in 1968. In 1979, she became the first female sheriff in Glasgow, and in 1996 she was appointed a Senator of the College of Justice, which for centuries had been solely a male preserve. She served in the Inner House, another female first, and retired in 2006.
A short distance from Parliament House, where Dame Margaret and Lady Cosgrove spent much of their working life, are the Faculty’s Consulting Rooms in the Lord Reid Building at 142 High Street. In January this year, a senior member of the female Bar was consulting at “142” as it is known. As she walked up the stairs with her instructing solicitor, they looked at the walls, which were decorated with photographs of eminent advocates. Her solicitor commented on the fact that the photographs were all of men, and asked the question: what image were we seeking to portray? in fairness, they did manage to find two photographs of women downstairs, but the point was made.
The position was no better in our other premises at the Mackenzie Building where it was remarked after the devils’ course that “there are more pictures of dogs than women”.
This was drawn to the attention of the Dean of Faculty and steps were taken to rectify the situation. The Faculty quickly commissioned a series of photographic portraits, Advocates: Women at Work, from Victoria Young, advocate.
Tonight, at an event to celebrate International Women’s Day, those wonderful photographs will be unveiled by Victoria and will contribute to making the images in our public spaces less one sided and more reflective of life at the Bar now. Granted these are small steps, in our wider work on equality and diversity, but they are not insignificant and when members of the public and solicitors come into 142 and the Mackenzie Building in the future, they will not simply be faced with pictures of eminent male advocates from our past, but with accomplished and eminent female advocates of the 21st Century as well.