The image of Oxbridge-educated male judges dominating the courts has been toppled after the Old Bailey achieved gender parity for the first time.
An equal number of male and female full-time judges now sit at the historic criminal court in central London including three mothers with school-age children.
Lead Old Bailey Judge Mark Lucraft QC said it was a “significant step in the right direction” but added more could be done on ethnic diversity.
In an interview with the PA news agency, the Recorder of London said: “I don’t think men or women have a particular trump card over others but I think it’s important courts reflect society.
“I would be the first to accept there is more needs to be done in respect of ethnic background but at least this is a significant step in the right direction.”
Reflecting on his own background, he said: “Personally, I’m a strong believer in diversity of individual background.
“Certainly, I know quite a number of judges here are not perhaps from traditional areas where judges might have been selected – public school, Oxbridge
“I went to a comprehensive school in north London, the University of Kent and ended up here.”
By bringing together a broad spectrum, the pool of judges at the Old Bailey reflects society better than “if they are all white, male, privately educated, Oxbridge-educated applicants”, he said.
Sitting as a judge at the Old Bailey is a privilege in of itself and to do so as the court achieves gender parity for the first time is an even greater honour
He hoped achieving gender parity sends a “positive message” to other areas of the criminal justice system and encourages people to put themselves forward.
Combining difficult legal work with school-age children is a “balance that has to be struck” but is no bar to becoming a senior circuit judge at the Old Bailey, he added.
The most recent appointees – judges Rebecca Trowler QC, Simon Mayo QC and Alexia Durran – bring a wide range of professional experience.
Judge Lucraft said: “I’m hugely impressed by the quality of those who applied for the post and were shortlisted.
“I’m immensely pleased with the judges who have been appointed here.
“And I am delighted that I am leading a court – the premier criminal court – where we have for the first time equal numbers of men and women doing difficult, complex cases and bringing to that work a broad spectrum of background practice and ideas.”
In 2012, Judge Wendy Joseph QC was the only full-time female judge sitting at the Old Bailey.
She had followed in the footsteps of Judge Nina Lowry – the first full-time female Old Bailey judge – and Judge Ann Goddard.
There are now seven female and seven male full-time judges, plus Judge John Hillen, who transferred following the closure of Blackfriars Crown Court.
Judge Trowler said: “Sitting as a judge at the Old Bailey is a privilege in of itself and to do so as the court achieves gender parity for the first time is an even greater honour.
“This is an important milestone along the way as the judiciary seeks to reflect the society it represents.”
Judge Durran added: “By appointing judges from a wide range of personal and professional backgrounds we are sending an important message that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach in law or the judiciary.
“I hope that by seeing female judges presiding over some of the most complex and difficult cases in England and Wales it will inspire other young women and female practitioners to consider law and judicial appointment as a career.”
In the past, Old Bailey judges were often “men of a certain age” but the most recent additions bring the range down to between 50 and 69, Judge Lucraft said.
The 59-year-old added that having numbers at full strength means the court is well placed to tackle the backlog of cases as coronavirus rules are relaxed.