Institutional sexism in criminal justice system holds women back

Institutional sexism within the criminal justice system is preventing women from reaching the top legal and policing jobs, a women’s campaign group has found.

The Fawcett Society’s Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System revealed only 12% of police chief inspectors were female in 2008, while women represented just 16% of partners at the top 10 UK law firms.

Of the 521 QCs, only 49 were found to be women, and applications to the Queen’s Counsel were at their lowest for 10 years.

Describing the progress made in promoting more women to senior positions as “disappointingly slow”, the commission said a glass ceiling had formed across the sector preventing women from accessing the typically male-dominated higher positions.

Sharon Smee, justice policy officer at the Fawcett Society, said: “Women need justice and justice needs women. A greater representation of women, particularly in high-level positions, is crucial to make the criminal justice system responsive to women’s reality.

“There is no excuse. Other countries are drawing on the skills of women. It is time our justice system stepped up.”

Jean Corston, chair of the Fawcett Society’s Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System, added: “Workplace practices and attitudes in the justice system are frequently failing to take into account the different needs of women. The police uniform in some forces is a telling example – designed for men by men, just like the criminal justice system.”

In light of the findings, the commission said methods for promotion and locations for prerequisite training should take caring commitments into account, part-time working should not act as a barrier to promotion, and flexible working should be made available to all levels of the judiciary.

In April, a government adviser revealed quotas for female and ethnic minority judges could be introduced to improve diversity across the judiciary.

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