The Supreme Court has sat with a bench of three women and two men: the first time in New Zealand’s history that the country’s highest court has sat with a majority of women on the full bench.
The recent retirement of Justice Terence Arnold from the six permanent Court members means the Court now comprises Chief Justice Sian Elias, Justice Susan Glazebrook, Justice Ellen France, Justice William Young and Justice Mark O’Regan.
New Zealand Law Society President Kathryn Beck says the sitting is an important milestone in New Zealand legal history.
“It is 120 years since New Zealand’s first woman lawyer, Ethel Benjamin, was admitted as a barrister and solicitor. Our highest court now has a majority of women, and that is something to celebrate in the move towards a justice system and legal profession where there is gender equality.
“There is still progress to be made. Over the whole judiciary, 68% of our judges are men. This is out of kilter with New Zealand society as a whole, and the legal profession where women will outnumber men in a few months.
“Today, however, is a time to applaud the progress which has been made by the efforts of many across government, the judiciary and the legal profession. We can be proud that our highest court is leading the way among the courts of other similar jurisdictions.”
The High Court of Australia has a bench of seven judges, of whom three are women. The Supreme Court of Canada has a bench of nine judges, of whom four are women. Three of the nine judges making up the Supreme Court of the United States are women and one of the eleven judges on the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom is a woman.