Third female judge in old boys’ sanctum

SCOTLAND’S third female judge was appointed yesterday, raising hopes that more women will break through the glass ceiling and reach the highest echelons of the legal profession.

Anne Smith, QC, will join Lady Cosgrove and Lady Paton as the only females to have made it to the top job. They are the only women out of 32 Scottish judges.

Earlier this year, the Scottish legal establishment faced accusations of running an "old boys’ club" after it emerged that Mrs Smith and another outstanding female lawyer, Leeona Dorrian, QC, were passed over for promotion to the bench.

Two male QCs were given the 130,000-a-year jobs, leaving Scotland with only two female senior judges.

Critics of the government accuse it of failing women. They say an increase in the number of female judges would do much to sweep away old-fashioned attitudes to women who are victims of crime.

A leading male lawyer, who chose not to be named, said the old boys’ network remains a major hurdle . He said: "There are a number of exceptional women at the bar and equal opportunities dictate that they should get the top jobs.

"For so long, the highest offices have been a male domain," he said. "You look at the bench and wonder how on earth some of these men got the job. Leeona is tremendously talented, and it’s a shame that she hasn’t joined Anne Smith as a judge."

Mrs Smith, 46, is married to a solicitor and has two children. Educated at Edinburgh University, she is described by legal insiders as strong-willed and she shocked the legal fraternity as one of the first women to wear trousers in court.

She joined the Faculty of Advocates in 1980 and became a QC in 1993.

Her work as an advocate was almost exclusively in the civil field, especially medical negligence actions.

One of her highest-profile cases was in 1997 when she represented a woman who won the right to go through with an abortion, in spite of opposition from her estranged husband.

Mrs Smith sat as a temporary sheriff between 1995 and 1999 and last year took up a post as a full-time High Court prosecutor. One of her most recent successes was securing the conviction of a man who murdered his two baby sons.

She is a friend of Judy X, a Conservative Party worker who was the victim of a horrific sexual assault in 1992.

The case became infamous after the attacker, John Cronin, won an appeal and had a life sentence reduced to six years’ imprisonment.

Mrs Smith is known at the bar as a committed Christian. She is a keen musician who also enjoys aerobics and skiing.

Hazel Aronson became Scotland’s first female judge in1996 and sits as Lady Cosgrove. She has already proved a powerful presence in the law relating to child abuse.

In England and Wales, Lord Irvine of Lairg’s promise to open the judiciary to more women was recently challenged by a group of Labour lawyers who believe that the government is neglecting them.

The Society of Labour Lawyers has written to the Lord Chancellor reminding him that, out of the 100 judges in the High Court of Justice, only eight are women.

The society argues that few judges have experience of juggling the care of a family with holding down a job, and that this adds to the public’s perception that the judiciary is out of touch.

The most recent figures published by the Lord Chancellor’s Department show that only 56 of the top 736 judges are women, and only six come from ethnic minorities.

There are still no "law ladies" in the House of Lords, and women lawyers are making little impression at the bottom of the judicial ladder.

Female lawyers believe that Lord Irvine has achieved very little for women and is depriving the bench of some of the brightest and best legal minds in the country.

Research published by the Lord Chancellor’s Department last year found that many women were dissatisfied with the system for appointing judges and silks. The research said there was a perception that the Lord Chancellor used "secret soundings" to select judges’ silks and judges from a few "elite chambers".

Earlier this month, the Lord Chancellor was cleared of race or sex discrimination over a friend being appointed his 73,000-a-year special adviser. But despite the Court of Appeal ruling, questions were raised about family and friends being chosen for a job.

White solicitor Jane Coker and black legal adviser Martha Osamor had claimed that Lord Irvine indirectly discriminated against them when Garry Hart was appointed his special adviser without the post being advertised.