22 January 2012


Not a word one often encounters in the national press, but I managed to smuggle it into a column in the Scotland on Sunday today, "No disguising the lack of women leading our judiciary". Regular readers will recognise the piece as an updated version of this blog of earlier this month, examining the likelihood that Lord Hamilton will be replaced by a woman as head of the Scottish judiciary, the first Lady President in the Supreme Courts' history. I took the opportunity to add a little more background information on the predicament faced by women with ambitions of emulating Portia at the beginning of the 20th Century. 

Before 1919, women were disqualified by law from entering legal practice. An Act of Parliament eliminated these disqualifications, allowing Margaret Kidd to make history, as the first woman admitted to the Faculty of Advocates and called to the Bar in 1923. She was to go on to be the first female senior counsel in Britain - in those days, owing to the monarch, King's Counsel - and the first female Sheriff Principal to preside over a Scottish court.  In point of fact, despite the general elimination of their disqualifications, Kidd remained the only woman in the Faculty for over twenty five years, until former journalist Isabel Sinclair was called in 1949. By 1979, only three women were in practice. 

There's a lot more interesting work which could be done on gender and our legal professions - both contemporary, and historical.  I'd rather like to engage more thoroughly with it myself, once my present project is killed off. Until then, you'll have to make do with this brief sketch...


  1. I first met Sheriff Principal Margaret Kidd QC in 1965 when I had just completed my first year in Edinburgh University Law Faculty. The then sheriff clerk of Dumfries called in for a drink to the Lockerbie hotel where I was working as porter/barman (with a lady not his wife). On discovering I was a law student, he invited me to attend the vacation court the following week to meet Margaret Kidd, who would be presiding.

    What struck me most forcibly about the experience was that Miss Kidd (not yet a Dame) was addressed on the bench as "My Lord" and referred to as "Her Lordship". It was Isabel Sinclair QC who insisted on "My Lady" and "Her Ladyship" when she became Scotland's first female sheriff-substitute.

    In 1984, as Professor of Scots Law, I was one of those who proposed Margaret Kidd for her Edinburgh honorary LLD, more than sixty years after she graduated LLB.

  2. Curious! As I recall, Dame Butler-Schloss was subjected to a similar absurd pattern of address when she was appointed a Lord Justice of England and Wales, though I don't think she insisted on it like Kidd seems to have. I wonder why she felt moved to it. Would professional opinion of the day have regarded addressing her as "my lady" as a scandalous transgression? Queer.

  3. I doubt if anyone in the then legal profession would have been scandalised, except perhaps Margaret Kidd herself. A flavour of her character (and that of Isabel Sinclair) can be gleaned from this 1997 article by Ian Hamilton QC in The Herald:

  4. Thanks Robert. I appear somehow to have missed that Hamilton article when I was looking into these issues more intensely. What a splendid story about Sinclair cutting out the nonsense and sitting herself down! Clearly a spirited lady.

  5. An annual salary of £214,165. It got me wondering whether I could scrape by on the £14,165, stick the rest in the bank and walk away with a million five years later. How much taxpayer toil is required to fund that?

    The 2009/10 annual median income in Scotland was £21,788 - http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/Statistics/Browse/Social-Welfare/TrendIncIneq).

    Assuming no complications, annual deductions from that median income would amount to £2,862 Income Tax and £1,747 National Insurance - http://www.taxcalculator.co.uk/calculation/757416.

    Setting aside NI (it’s only intended to fund the NHS, benefits and pensions), the entire annual Income Tax contributions of 75 median income earners is required to fund The Lord President’s salary. Personal financial success is absolutely to be celebrated but would it be too old-school to suggest that millionaires are better generated by private enterprise instead of the public purse?

    Finally, our legal system appears to be stuck in a time warp, divorced from the reality of the rest of us. The feudal terminology and social stuffiness is stifling. Strip it down and rebuild something more appropriate for the 21st century.

  6. Graham,

    Amusingly, Lord Hamilton recently argued that Scottish judicial salaries weren't high enough. I fear Scotland didn't exactly spasm with sympathy...