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Women in Justice, Women for Justice

March 10 2024

By Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, President of the Qatar International Court, and Justices Her Honour Frances Kirkham CBE, Helen Mountfield KC & Dr Muna Al-Marzouqi

On 28 April 2021, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution (drafted by the State of Qatar) recognising the important role of women in the justice system. The General Resolution called on courts throughout the world to improve the representation of women, and designated 10 March Women Judges Day.

As judges of Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre, we agree that it is important to have the voices and perspectives of the female half of humanity better represented in judicial systems, including our own (women constitute 51% of humanity, but only 40% of judges on senior courts world-wide, far lower in some jurisdictions; and it is right to point out in our own court, which consists of very senior and experienced lawyers from a wide range of jurisdictions, women nonetheless represent only 23% of the judges).

On this Women Judges Day, we think it is worth articulating why better representation of women in the judiciary matters and is worth striving towards.

The most obvious reason – in a profession based on doing justice – is fairness. Talent should be recognised without discrimination on any ground, including on grounds of gender. But there are a number of other reasons why a diverse judiciary has a wider social value beyond the fair and equal treatment of people who may want to be judges.

The first is that a diverse judiciary is a better judiciary. On the assumption that legal aptitude is broadly equally distributed between men and women, we are obviously missing out if we do not broaden the pool in which we search for talent. We broaden the pool by thinking imaginatively about what judicial talent looks like. Women’s legal careers are not always the same as men’s, so we need to think creatively about how we encourage women to train themselves to be judges, and for the qualities we look for when selecting them, so that our ideas of what (and who) is a good judge are challenged.

Secondly, cognitive diversity matters in any profession. The Qatar International Court and Dispute Resolution Centre is special precisely because we draw on the different legal traditions, experiences and expertise of our members, drawn from judiciaries and professions across the world. It has been proved by academic psychological research that diverse groups make better decisions – because they do not all share the same assumptions about what is normal, or obvious, or obviously right – so a diverse judiciary is a good end in itself.

The third reason that judicial diversity matters is because judges make decisions that matter. Their role in a society is to articulate and apply the rules and values which are set out in the law, so that power in a society is accountable to and bounded by the rule of law. Thus, the use of judicial power must be seen as legitimate, across the whole of society. To see a judiciary which reflects society – including a reflection of the fact that society is more than 50% female – encourages trust and confidence in courts, which they need to do their job. And it is encouraging for women litigants and women advocates to have visual assurance of the fact that they are equal participants before a court on which women are fairly represented.

Finally, equality before the law plays a vital constitutional role in a country which is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which treats everyone as being “free and equal in dignity and rights”. Enhancing the role of women in the judiciary sends a message about the rights of all people to participate in a society, and this resonates particularly strongly in the emblematic context of a court room.



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