News Item

September 2018

Research shows female lawyers greatly under-represented in New Zealand's highest courts

Research carried out by the New Zealand Bar Association, and funded by the Law Foundation, has shown that female lawyers are greatly under-represented in appearances before the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

In spite of there being an equal number of female and male lawyers practising in New Zealand, the research covering a six year period, 2012 to 2017, showed women barristers or solicitors only made up about 25 per cent of lead counsel appearances before both the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court. The overall figure drops to around 15 per cent female representation when the Crown Law Office is excluded from the data.

The report’s co-authors, NZ Bar Association Council members Jenny Cooper QC and Gretta Schumacher, say the results were worse than they had anticipated.

“The most shocking aspect is the absence of any material improvement over the six years that the study covers,” says Jenny Cooper. “This demonstrates the fallacy of the argument that it is just a matter of time and gender inequality will take care of itself. Active measures are needed to overcome entrenched attitudes that deprive women of opportunities to prove themselves as advocates.”

The data on Queen’s Counsel shows that only around nine per cent of appearances by QCs are by women. Overall there is an 80:20 split of male/female QCs in New Zealand.

The authors say the role of the Crown Law Office in providing a greater level of gender equity in counsel appearing on its behalf (as compared to the overall legal profession), is notable and warrants further understanding. Crown Law adopted the NZ Bar Association’s Gender Equitable Briefing Policy in 2009, and adopted the joint NZ Bar Association and New Zealand Law Society Gender Equitable Engagement and Instruction Policy on its launch in 2017.

NZ Bar Association President, Clive Elliott QC, says “While many of us may have thought there was a gender imbalance for higher court legal representation, this research definitely confirms it. There has been a focus on trying to address the issue through gender equitable briefing, but clearly the legal profession needs to do more, and move more quickly in order to create fairness and opportunity for women”.

Full research report
Link to Radio NZ interview of 3rd Sept 2018 with Jenny Cooper QC, author of just-released research report

New Zealand Law Foundation has provided funding of $7,000 towards this research project