Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Justice and Equality

In a meeting with my essay supervisor today we discussed the role of language within the legal profession. I had told him that I get real pleasure from writing, and it was the law I had struggled with when getting this essay together not the expression. He agreed that familiarity and confidence with language is fundamental for a lawyer, and told me that he liked to think of himself as a wordsmith. I have been disillusioned with the legal world since beginning my course. I am aware that as I want to be a commercial solicitor I will be surrounded by corporate types, and the institution where I am studying is nothing if not corporate. However I had not been prepared for the total lack of inspiration from those studying the diploma. I had expected that as a ‘conversion’ course where all students have previously studied and worked in other areas there would be more enthusiasm for the subject, more motivation for a legal career. This has not entirely turned out to be the case. The conversation with my tutor today reminded me why I chose to do this, he reminded me that what I want out of this is a job, and that the frustrations and irritations of the diploma will be over soon. I am looking forward to working in the real world, giving advice, researching, and meeting new, interesting people.

So, inspired to continue with law and to continue with writing I sat down to read the Second Annual Review of the Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System. I was interested to read this as a woman, as a prospective lawyer, and as a volunteer within the system, but it is an equally difficult read from each of those perspectives. The report highlights the improvements that have been made since the Fawcett Society established the Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System three years ago, but there is still so much that needs to be done. A picture is painted of a system that is just not designed to ‘deal’ with women. The report discusses it as a complete entity, exploring treatment of female suspects from arrest to the court to prison, as well as the role of women working within the system. The two cannot be separated. For criminal justice to improve those managing it must appreciate the needs of women, and a legal profession and police force dominated by men will never do so. It amazes me that there isn’t a greater popular outcry at the gender imbalance and lack of ethnic diversity within the judiciary. These are the people who dispense justice, but such inequality can surely never truly be just. It is reassuring that the Government is taking the problem seriously and judicial appointments have recently undergone an overhaul to enable the process to become more open and less biased against women and ethnic minority lawyers.

In fact this improvement is one of the most optimistic areas of the report. Statistics relating to women as victims of crime and women as perpetrators of crime are depressing. A student on my course studied sociology before deciding the law was for her, and every time women’s prisons are discussed she looks so sad. After reading this report I begin to understand why. Furthermore the once shocking now familiar statistics relating to rape and domestic violence convictions are cited. I have never managed to find the time to attend a training course on either of these crimes, although Victim Support (who I volunteer with) have offered me the opportunity and now feel that I too am responsible for avoiding this problem. It has motivated me to get in touch with the office and find out when the next course is. Perhaps I haven’t emphasised this aspect of the report enough. The statistics are shocking and the picture painted is not pretty, but the report and the Commission are optimistic. They look at the challenges presented by the system and seek ways and means of addressing them. They are positive about the changes the Government has introduced, particularly the Equality Act 2006 and changes to the judiciary, and the tone of the report is more active and more forward looking than I have made it out to be. I’d recommend a read – as well as focussing on important issues it is succinctly written and gives much food for thought.

A copy of the report can be found at:


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