Celebrating the Appointment of Women Senior Counsel to the NSW Bar

Madeleine Bridgett

On 3 November 2022 the Women Barristers Forum hosted the annual Women Silks event, celebrating women barristers appointed as Senior Counsel, and once again the event did not disappoint. Judges, barristers, readers, clerks and solicitors were in attendance to celebrate our women silks.

The Women Barristers Forum congratulates our newly appointed female silks – Ragni Mathur SC, Kellie Stares SC, Justine Beaumont SC, Elizabeth Bishop SC, and Martha Barnett SC – appointed as Senior Counsel on 4 October 2022.

The speeches are always a highlight at this event. The Honourable Justice Jayne Jagot was our guest speaker, and the newly appointed silks shared stories about their life at the bar, both as barristers and as women. Our female silks spoke with grace, eloquence, and humour, about their individual paths at the NSW Bar. Each touched upon the trials and tribulations of life at the Bar, in particular of the specific challenges some women face as barristers. Notwithstanding these challenges, their stories spoke of how they bravely overcame such obstacles, demonstrating that despite the adversities women may face at the Bar, that it is possible to achieve great things.

While such events are important and recognise women’s achievements, they cannot, and do not, hide the fact that there is significant room for improvement in order to reach gender equality at the NSW Bar, namely that 50% of barristers are female and 50% of silks are female, not factoring in barristers who may not identify as male or female.

In 2022, of the 2,427 barristers at the NSW Bar only 24.8% are women.1 In the NSW population, the ratio of males to females is approximately 98 males per 100 females.2 The difference is stark. As for silks, as of 2022, there are 400 Senior Counsel. This translates to 16.48% of barristers who are silks. Of the 400 silks, 14.25% identify as female and 85.75% as male. Currently 9.47% of women at the NSW Bar are silks, compared with 18.83% of male barristers who are silks. In 2022 there were 98 barristers who applied for silk. Of the 98, 77 identify as male and 21 as female. This translates to 78.6% male applicants and 21.4% female. 3

In 2022 there were 20 barristers appointed as Senior Counsel, and out of those 20, only five were women. This means that 75% of those appointed were male and 25% female.4 Achieving a gender equality rate of 50% may seem arbitrary to some, however it would be a firm marker of equal status for women at the NSW Bar. Importantly, it would also send a clear message to women who are thinking about a career at the Bar, that being a woman is not an impediment to becoming a barrister, but rather, a confident possibility.

Congratulations again to our women silks and we look forward to celebrating this event with you all again in 2023. BN


1 https://inbrief.nswbar.asn.au/posts/7fe49807df877cb7bb81940d2e61b172/attachment/2022%20-%20Senior%20Counsel%20Statistics.pdf.

2 https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/population/regionalpopulation-age-and-sex/latest-release.

3 InBrief, (n1).

4 InBrief, (n1).

Madeleine Bridgett