Baroness Scotland QC reflects on early career and being told she’d be better off working at Sainsbury’s

Today the First 100 Years will launch two of its latest films – one featuring Baroness Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary General, member of the House of Lords, the first black women to become a QC and the first female Attorney General, and another interviewing Hilary Heilbron QC talking about her mother, Rose Heilbron, the first woman QC, first woman judge and inspiration for many of today’s leading female lawyers.

In her interview, Baroness Scotland recalls the shock of teachers at Walthamstow School for Girls when she said she wanted to be a lawyer.  She was told she had unrealistically high aspirations and they feared she would only be disappointed.  She says, There was a pecking order I was told at that stage – white male, black male, white female, and at the bottom of the pile, black female.” They saw no realistic prospect of success and, “since I worked at Sainsburys at the weekend, had I thought of a long term career there? If I worked extremely hard and applied myself, I might, in time, become a supervisor.”

She recalls the first time someone indicated to her she was silk quality at around seven years call, “I thought they were bonkers” she explained.

Speaking of her appointment to the House of Lords, and then as a minister in the Foreign Office and Home Office, she recounts her pride at forming the Forced Marriage Unit which has “returned thousands of individuals to this country”, and her work on domestic violence which “reduced domestic violence by 64% and saved £7.1bn annually – those aren’t just figures, they are lives saved.”

The film, which can be viewed here was kindly supported by Pinsent Masons.

Hilary Heilbron explains how her mother “was a novelty from the start, so wherever she appeared there would be a tiny piece in the newspaper saying she was the first woman to appear in these magistrates courts.” She explains how, “people would queue to listen to her address juries”.

Once established as a silk she might have expected that within a few years she would have become a recorder, “but being a women it look far longer and she had to wait a lot longer.”  Becoming the first woman who had ever been made a professional judge “created huge publicity with headlines ‘First Woman Judge’ because for 800 years of the judiciary, there had never been a woman before,” and was “a big stepping stone on the legal path, for women.”

My mother clearly suffered prejudice,” says Hilary, explaining how women were not allowed at the barristers’ get together, the ‘Bar Mess’ that was held once a week. Only later in her career, as Leader of the Northern Circuit, was she allowed to attend the “Grand Court” a dinner she was previously unable to go to “on the basis they would be telling naughty stories that wouldn’t be suitable for a woman.”

Hilary explains her mother’s frustration that as a woman she “had to wait a long time for every stage of her career” and did not become a High Court Judge until she was 60.

The film, which can be viewed here was kindly supported by Weil Gotshal & Manges LLP

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