Supreme Court

New Zealand Supreme Court’s milestone: an historic female-majority Bench

13 June 2017 saw the history-making sitting of the Supreme Court of New Zealand as a female-majority bench. The five-judge Court comprised Chief Justice Sian Elias, Justice Susan Glazebrook, and Justice Ellen France, alongside their colleagues Justice William Young and Justice Mark O’Regan.

The Supreme Court is presided over by the Chief Justice, alongside four or five other judges. With the recent retirement of Justice Terence Arnold, the Court now comprises a permanent female majority. This is the first final appellate Court in the Commonwealth, likely the world, that constitutes a female majority.

The majority female bench of the Supreme Court follows a similarly history-making event in 2015, where the Permanent Court of Appeal sat as three women for the first time ever. The Court of Appeal, which sits with three Judges, comprised Justices Ellen France (then the President of the Court of Appeal), French and Winkelmann. 

The co-chairs of the New Zealand Bar Association’s Gender Equity Committee, Kate Davenport QC and James Farmer QC, have commended  the achievement these 2 events represent.

“This is a wonderful milestone for the profession. It demonstrates the quality and depth of female talent in the profession and its recognition in the highest echelons of the judiciary. It is a valuable step in the direction of the advancement of gender equity in the profession.

The New Zealand Bar Association is committed to the development of a diverse and equitable Bar and Bench, which reflects the community which it serves. The Bar Association is working to support the advancement of women across all levels in the profession, so that the talent and skill they offer is not lost or underrepresented.  The Bar Association’s Equitable Briefing Policy for female barristers is one way we seek to promote that aim. The increasing diversity of the Bench is a similarly valuable move in the right direction.

We are pleased with this development and hope that this will become a motivating platform to continue progress toward the enhancement of diversity and equity at both the Bar and Bench.”

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