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100 years of women in law

This year marks the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919, which enabled women to participate fully in civil life. Before this time, women were effectively barred from participating in the legal profession, being unable to become magistrates, jurors or solicitors, and being restricted from admission to the Inns of Court, by virtue of being female. 

As we celebrate this landmark legislation, we want to recognise UCL’s important role in the changing attitudes that enabled progress to occur. At a time when other institutions did not allow female students to matriculate, UCL pioneered women’s access to education. 30 years before the Act was passed, Eliza Orme became the first woman in England to receive a law degree, when she graduated from UCL in 1888. 

Since then, UCL has continued to support women to become academics, professionals and legal practitioners. Although we can’t include every ground-breaking woman who has passed through our halls, we want to shine a light on a number of inspirational women who have worked for or studied at UCL Faculty of Laws, and have opened countless doors for future generations of women.

 

Eliza Orme
Eliza (Elizabeth) Orme

UCL Laws LLB 1888

The first woman to achieve a law degree in England (1888), which she studied at UCL.

While studying, Elizabeth Orme opened a practice as a conveyancer and patent agent with fellow UCL student Mary Richardson, 1875. She later worked on a public enquiry into women’s employment and an official review of women’s prison experiences. Although there are no surviving examples of her conveyancing and patent work, her published writing about higher education for women, women’s access to paid work and the professions, women’s suffrage and contemporary legal issues, reveal her propensity for factual accuracy and analytical rigour.

Mary Richardson

Co-founder of the first legal office run by women.

Mary Richardson, together with fellow UCL student Eliza Orme, set up chambers in Chancery Lane (1875); the first legal office in the country to be run by women. At that time, women were not permitted to be called to the bar or to join the Law Society. Thus, while unable to become a licensed conveyancer and not technically qualified as solicitors, Orme and Richardson offered various services including drafting pleadings and documents, as well as providing legal opinions. She was thereby impressive in moving beyond simply studying law, to running a business in the field, at a time when women faced many barriers to participating in the legal profession.

Dorothy Bonarjee
Dorothy Bonarjee

UCL Laws LLB 1917

The first woman to achieve an internal law degree from UCL.

Dorothy Bonarjee was the first woman to achieve an internal law degree from UCL Faculty of Laws (1917). This achievement is particularly notable because the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act, which enabled women to become barristers, solicitors, jurors and magistrates, was not ratified until 1919. This means that while she was pursuing her studies, women could not formally enter the legal profession. Additionally, other leading universities did not, at that time, admit women to degrees.

Valentine Korah
Professor Valentine Korah

UCL Laws LLB 1949, UCL Laws LLM (Distinction) 1951, UCL Laws PhD 1965

 One of the first three female law professors in the UK and the first at UCL.

Valentine Korah, Professor of Competition Law at UCL Laws, was the first female law professor at UCL, and one of the first three in the UK. She has facilitated collaboration between lawyers and economists, and during a placement in the civil service (1970), she helped prepare the instructions to Parliamentary Counsel on the Commission of Industry and Manpower Bill of 1970 which contributed to the development of the Fair Trading Bill. She also advised the 1973 Price Commission quango. In 1964 she and the economist Basil Yamey of LSE established at UCL the first taught LLM course on competition law and policy, taught jointly for lawyers by a lawyer and an economist.

Dame Margaret Myfanwy Wood Booth DBE
Dame Margaret Myfanwy Wood Booth DBE

UCL Laws LLB 1955, UCL Laws LLM 1959, UCL Fellow 1992

One of the first women to serve as a High Court Judge. 

Dame Margaret Myfanwy Wood Booth DBE received an LLB (1955) and LLM (1959) from UCL Laws, and became a fellow of UCL (1992). She was appointed QC (1976), and acted as Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association (1976-78). Dame Margaret was the third woman to be appointed as a High Court Judge (1979-1994), and was called to the Bench of the Middle Temple in 1979, before becoming a Senior Bencher (1995). She is President of the Family and Parenting Institute.

Eleanor F Platt QC
Eleanor F Platt QC

UCL Laws LLB 1959

Involved in developing the first statute concerning surrogacy and parental orders.

Eleanor F Platt QC (UCL Laws LLB 1959) has had experience in many aspects of law, but in particular she has played a significant part in the way in which family courts approach cases involving children. She was called to the Bar in 1960, and became the 19th woman ever to obtain Silk in 1982. She was involved in the landmark Cleveland enquiry (1987), which ultimately led to the Children Act with its radical reforms of the law relating to children, their families, and the role of the state in families’ lives. She was also involved in the development of the first statute that was enacted concerning surrogacy and parental orders, and was involved in the passing of the Divorce (Religious Marriages) Act 2002. Eleanor was joint Head of Chambers of One Garden Court family law Chambers for 17 years, and now chairs the Family Law Group of the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Dame Bernice Lake QC
Dame Bernice Lake QC

UCL Laws LLB (Hons) 1967

The first Eastern Caribbean woman appointed to Queen’s Counsel.

Dame Bernice Lake QC was the first woman from the Eastern Caribbean appointed Queen’s Counsel (1985). She was also the first graduate of the University of the West Indies to receive the honour. As a jurist and legal scholar, her career spanned more than 40 years. Born in Anguilla, she was part of the team which drafted the Antigua and Barbuda constitution (1981). Antigua and Barbuda bestowed a knighthood on her (2004) for contributions to the legal field, including her stance on women’s issues, civil and political rights and personal integrity. Dame Bernice was also included in the UCL-wide art project 'Female Firsts'. 

Ruth Fox
Ruth Fox

UCL Laws LLB 1976

The first female partner at Slaughter and May.

Ruth Fox was the first female partner at Slaughter and May (1986), a leading commercial law firm, and was among the first female partners at major law firms in the City of London. She headed the firm’s financial regulatory practice (1998- 2013), which she had been instrumental in establishing. She has advised domestic and international financial institutions and companies on UK and EU law and regulation, and has contributed to governmental and regulatory financial law reform. In 2015 she achieved her MA in History at UCL.

Baroness Scotland
Patricia Scotland, The Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC

UCL Laws LLB 1976

The first female Secretary-General of the Commonwealth.

Patricia Scotland, The Rt Hon Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC (UCL Laws LLB 1976) became in 2016 the first female Secretary- General of the Commonwealth, having from 2007 to 2010 been the first woman since the post was established in 1315 to serve as Attorney General for England and Wales, and for Northern Ireland. She was in 1991 the first black woman to be appointed Queen’s Counsel. She contributed inter alia to ratification of the International Criminal Court into UK law and established a pro bono initiative for UK nationals imprisoned in foreign countries.

Elizabeth Barrett
Elizabeth Barrett

UCL Laws LLB 1978

The first woman to head Slaughter and May’s Dispute Resolution Group.

Elizabeth Barrett was a partner at Slaughter and May (1989-2016), and the first woman to head its Dispute Resolution Group (2004- 2008). She was among the first female partners at major firms in the City. She advised HM Treasury during and following the financial crisis, including the interventions in Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley and the administration of Icelandic banks. In 2018 she was appointed Executive Counsel and Director of Enforcement for the Financial Reporting Council and heads its Enforcement Division which deals with regulatory proceedings involving auditors, accountants and actuaries.

Catherine Newman
Catherine Newman QC

UCL Laws LLB 1978

A leading silk at the commercial Chancery Bar.

Catherine Newman QC was called to the Bar in 1979 and has been in practice at Maitland Chambers (and its predecessor at 13 Old Square) since 1980, following specialist pupillages in company law and trusts after graduating top of her year from UCL Laws. While studying at UCL she was President of the UCL Law Society (1977-1978). She has also held roles as a Deputy High Court Judge; Crown Court Recorder; Lieutenant Bailiff of the Royal Court of Guernsey (2001-2014); and a member of UCL Council (2008-2011).

Sarah Clover
Sarah Clover

UCL Laws LLB 1980

Prominent in the field of liability claims.

Sarah Clover is Chair of the Executive of Clyde & Co’s UK Professional and Financial Disputes team. She has specialised in lawyers’ professional liability for 30 years. She has acted in the defence of a wide range of professional liability claims against lawyers, arising from all areas of commercial practice. She also advises firms on professional ethics and disciplinary issues. She is known for her social conscience, and is actively involved in UCL Here East.

Kate Gibbons
Kate Gibbons

UCL Laws LLB 1980

Global Knowledge and Finance and Capitals Market Partner at Clifford Chance.

Kate Gibbons is Clifford Chance’s Global Knowledge partner as well as being a Finance and Capital Markets partner from which she leads the Practice’s Knowledge function. In these capacities she chairs the Firm’s Knowledge Committee and Thought Leadership Board and is a member of its London and Global Legal Opinion Committees. She is a member and director of the Financial Markets Law Committee, considers issues of security reform and legal opinions for the City of London Law Society, is a distinguished practitioner of Harris Manchester College, Oxford and a member of the Chatham House Council.

Professor Dawn Oliver
Professor Dawn Oliver

Dean of UCL Laws 1993-1998

First female Treasurer of the Middle Temple; first female Dean of UCL Laws.

Professor Dawn Oliver, Emeritus Professor of Constitutional Law, was the first female Dean of UCL Laws (1993 – 1998). She was editor of Public Law (1993-2002), member of the Royal Commission on Reform of the House of Lords (1999-2000), Chair of the UK Constitutional Law Group (2005-2010), a member of the Executive Committee of the International Association of Constitutional Law (2007-2010) and President of the Study of Parliament Group (2010-2015). She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy (2005) and was the first female and the first academic Treasurer of the Middle Temple (2011). She was appointed Honorary QC (2012).

Dame Hazel Genn
Professor Dame Hazel Genn QC

Dean of UCL Laws 2008-2017

Leading authority on civil justice.

Professor Dame Hazel Genn DBE QC (Hon) FBA is a leading authority on civil justice whose work has had a major influence on policy-makers around the world. She was appointed Professor of Socio-Legal Studies (1994) and was Dean of the UCL Faculty of Laws (2008 – 2017). She founded the UCL Centre for Access to Justice, which combines legal education with the provision of legal advice to vulnerable communities. She was appointed DBE (2006), Honorary QC (2006) and Honorary Bencher at Gray’s Inn (2008).

Anna Howell
Anna Howell

UCL Laws LLB 1990

Partner at Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, where she co-chairs the global Oil & Gas practice group.

Anna was previously at HSF where she cochaired the energy practice. Anna has been ranked as a leader in the energy field, where she specialises in the entire energy value chain, by several major publications and has been recognised by clients as having an ‘exceptionally intelligent approach to negotiations and tactics’. She graduated with a first class LLB degree from UCL Laws in 1990. Anna and her husband sponsor the Natalie Bursary Award supporting UCL undergraduate students.