News: Empirical research on barrister gender in the Court

Economists from Monash University, Dr Vinod Mishra and Professor Russell Smyth, have published a paper in the Australian Journal of Political Science examining the effect of barrister gender on appeal outcomes in the High Court of Australia. According to the abstract:

We examine the relationship between gender of the barrister and appeal outcomes on the High Court of Australia. We find that an appellant represented in oral argument by a female barrister, opposed to a respondent represented in oral argument by a male barrister, is less likely to receive a High Court justice’s vote. However, we also find that the appellant disadvantage of having a female barrister present oral argument is (partially) offset in the case of liberal justices and on panels having a higher proportion of female justices. The extent to which the disadvantage is offset, and potentially turns from being a disadvantage to an advantage, depends on the degree to which the justice is liberal and the proportion of female justices on the panel.

For non-subscribers, an earlier version of the paper is available here.

The paper follows similar studies of the top courts of the United States and Canada. Of further interest is Table 2, which counts the number of female barristers appearing for a party in the Court between 1994-2011. In 2011, out of 44 cases, female barrister appeared for a party in 18, but only provided oral argument in 6 (or 14%, the highest proportion of any year in that period.)

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About Jeremy Gans

Jeremy Gans is a Professor in Melbourne Law School, where he researches and teaches across all aspects of the criminal justice system. He holds higher degrees in both law and criminology. In 2007, he was appointed as the Human Rights Adviser to the Victorian Parliament's Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee.

2 thoughts on “News: Empirical research on barrister gender in the Court

  1. What I wonder is if this is more about inequality at the bar and the pace of structural change?

    The inequality i mean is not however gender inequality as such. Rather, it is that there are, certainly in eh the tax bar, a lot of not so great barristers (including QCs) and a few (very wealthy) very good ones.

    This then overlaps with the next point to conspire against women being heavily represented in that top category.
    The second issue is that a more experienced barrister is generally much better. But the experienced barristers are generally male because of the sexual inequality of 20 – 30 years ago.

  2. The study contains some mild controls for professional expertise (silk vs non-silk, size of team), but does not control for other measures like experience, etc. So, your point sounds plausible, Patrick.

    However, the issues about gender in the bar don’t explain why the correlation between gender and outcome identified in the study varies according to gender make up of the bench…

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