Lawya Art: Historical Absence of Women in Legal Profession

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Simplicity says so much in this award winning portrait In Chambers by Charlotte Draycott the 1st prize winner in the EWL Photo Competition in 2010.

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The young barrister dressing signifies a moment where the woman oscillates between her femininity, youth and the identity imposed by the barrister’s robes. It explores the tension between the traditional presentation of the English legal establishment and its modern reality.  My interest in producing this work arose from the historical absence of women within the legal system. This portrait and the others in the series are intended to conflict with the conservative conventions of portraiture within the legal establishment.

Growing up within the Inns of Court I felt compelled to respond to the masculine codes of conventions implicit within traditional legal portraiture, much of which dates back to the 17th century. Retaining the painterly aesthetic and the court dress, the portrait celebrates these young modern women. I was driven by a desire to represent the unrepresented with the intention of invoking new sentiments in the portraits.

 

Well said. As a female lawyer I understand Charlotte’s concern at the historical absence of women within the legal profession. History cannot be changed and we cannot re-write it. But we can change it going forward.

The legal establishment, the profession in UK, Australia and many Commonwealth jurisdictions is still white male dominated certainly in the area of criminal defence practice especially court advocacy and trials.

It was much the same in the USA when I was working in the criminal law. Criminal defence advocates, the trial lawyers, were mainly white males.

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Margaret Battye in her Court regalia 1930s Australia

Nothing has really changed for barristers, certainly in SA, where wigs, gowns, jabots and other accoutrements of legal practice remain the same.  I talked about barrister’s court regalia here. Historical pictures and portraits of women in the profession, robed and bewigged, are rare. Legal history, especially advocacy and court work, is overwhelmingly male dominated. Naturally, male lawyers feature in the images.

When I attended Adelaide University Law School, the walls in the two story underground law library were lined with legal portraits falling within the masculine code of convention where representation of female lawyers was little or nothing.It appears that change is very slow even with the internet making way for a broader pictorial representation of women lawyers.

 

The few examples below are the sorts of famous white men, mostly English and Australian barristers, judges and jurists, who graced the Law School library walls back in my student days. It was these sorts of portraits and caricatures that kept me company down there as I ploughed my way through those scholarly tomes.

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Sir Edward Coke was an English jurist perhaps best known for his defence of the supremacy of the common law.

 Reason is the life of the law; nay, the common law itself is nothing else but reason… The law, which is perfection of reason. Edward Coke

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Sir William Blackstone is best know for his Commentaries on the Laws of England a description of the doctrines of English law.  Lawyers from common law based countries such as UK, USA and Australia know that much of the legal education is based on Sir William Blackstone’s Commentaries.

It is better that ten guilty escape than one innocent suffer.

 

 

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Sir Garfied Barwick was the Chief Justice of Austalia’s High Court from 1964-81.

Garfield Barwick was also a Judge ad hoc of the International Court of Justice (1973–74).

 

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Three early justices of the High Court of Australia: T-B  Sir Isaac Isaacs CJ, Sir Samuel Griffith J. and Sir Frank Duffy, CJ.,  and  High Court of Australia – former Justices

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