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Dame Vera’s comments on the #BalanceforBetter campaign – International Women’s Day 2019

8th March 2019

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, a lawyer by profession has praised progress being made to help achieve greater gender equality in the Criminal Justice System but says there is still a long way to go.

The Commissioner’s comments have been made as part of International Women’s Day 2019 (Friday 8, March), which has a campaign theme of #BalanceforBetter  – a call-to-action for driving gender balance across the world.

The annual awareness day is celebrated across the world as the United Nations (UN) looks to promote women and encourage further gender equality. Locally, Dame Vera is attending events all day including a forum at Washington Arts Centre, hosted by MP Sharon Hodgson.

Northumbria Police has seen female police officer numbers grow from 6 per cent to 29 per cent and two of the current Assistant Chief Constables are women. Dame Vera said: “Role models are important to young women. If you can see a woman in a senior role you can see that you might be able to follow suit or at least that the line of work is available to women. I suspect the presence of Cressida Dick as Metropolitan Police Commissioner has been a real encouragement to women to think about policing. Policing isn’t one career, it is many. From firearms support to safeguarding roles, the qualities needed are very diverse, and women have them all. It is obvious that, since the population is half women the police force need to be the same or they won’t be representative.

“The broader criminal justice system is also making progress towards better female representation. It isn’t long since the letters barristers received from the criminal court of appeal about their cases were written to say ‘a barrister must…. he must…. his client will’. I wrote to the court saying this rhetoric made women lawyers feel unwelcome and they promised to change when their current stocks of letters ran out. It must have been a massive order as it was years before it was re-written! However, until very recently there was only one woman judge in the Supreme Court, and only 22 per cent in the high court are women. The percentages of women get bigger as you go down through the courts which is not a good sign –  typical that women are in the lower categories of the judiciary as they often are in other jobs.

“It’s important we do everything we can to help forge a more gender-balanced world – not just on International Women’s Day but every day. We’ve been working hard to achieve gender equality in the criminal justice system – the balance is shifting – and I will keep championing for change.”