100 years since women allowed to practise law

23rd December 2019

23rd December 2019 marks the centenary of the ‘Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919’, which allowed women to practise law for the first time in the UK.

The act also permitted women to sit as magistrates and on juries, and to receive degrees from university on completion of study. This landmark change in law came just a year after women were granted the right to vote, with the 1918 Representation of the People Act.

It’s important that we remember and celebrate this crucial change which allowed women to practise law, and to sit as magistrates and on juries. It’s vital that women are represented, and that their voices are heard, across all sectors and at all levels of society so that the decisions that are made are representative. We know that better decisions are made when a broad range of experience are taken into account.

“Society owes a debt of gratitude to those women who took on the battle for the 1919 law change, empowering other women to follow in their footsteps. While huge strides forward have been taken since, there is still a long way to go, across the legal profession in the UK, the gender pay gap is very high at 37.9%. We have a duty to repay our debt to those women of 100 years ago and continue their fight by taking action to tackle the gender pay gap and other inequalities that exist in the legal profession and across the wider economy.

Cerys Furlong
Chief Executive, Chwarae Teg

Recent political turmoil has highlighted the role of voters and lawyers. And yet, just 100 years ago, a woman couldn’t be either. The celebrations around the centenary of women’s votes last year, and those marking the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act this year, provide us with an opportunity to commemorate the awe-inspiring women who fought for change, and to reflect on the progress achieved.

"Figures released in 2018 showed that the number of working female solicitors in England and Wales had exceeded that of men for the first time. This breakthrough reflects years of young women joining the profession, bringing much needed diversity. But the rate of female partnership remains low.

“To accelerate gender equality, law firms must not only attract female talent, but also create an environment where women can thrive and progress. The introduction of flexible working policies is a great example. While potentially game changing, such policies can only be effective if take up is encouraged among men too. That’s why a deep cultural change is needed, where caring responsibilities are no longer the reserve of women.

Alys Carlton
Partner at Capital Law, Cardiff - is actively engaged in the advancement of women in business and is Vice Chair of the Welsh Government Panel on Supporting Entrepreneurial Women