Stories about sexual assault, gender equality and the role of women in society generally have figured prominently in the media over the past year or so. Probably inspired by that,  the ACT Chief Justice (Helen Murrell) gave a very interesting speech to the ANU Law Students’ Society Women in Law Breakfast on 22 March 2021. The title was “Women’s Voices in Ancient and Modern Times”.

There was the truly cringeworthy story about Mary Gaudron being told by a local Moree solicitor that she couldn’t be an articled clerk because “girls don’t do law” and that  instead, she should pursue secretarial work. I also didn’t realise that when Justice Gaudron first went to the bar, she had to share a room with Janet Coombs because no floor of male barristers would allow her to have a room.

Her Honour continued with:

Why is our profession still troubled by these issues in 2021? The problem is not one of merit or of the quality of women lawyers. Justice Gaudron once stated:

‘It is often said that, for a woman to succeed in a traditional male area, she has to be better than her male counterparts. We know this is true. We also know that it is not very hard to be better than the average male.’

Conversely, Justice Penfold of my Court has said:

‘We will not have achieved gender equality until there are just as many dopey women judges as there are dopey men judges.’

Given the huge amount of female talent in the current and emerging profession, I am confident that equality need never be tested by that standard.


You can read the whole speech by clicking on this link.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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