This year marks a century since the first woman was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn.
On the 13th of June 1923, Edith Hesling, from Flixton in Manchester, became the first woman called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn. Receiving the ‘call to the Bar’ is a legal term for when a Barrister becomes qualified to argue in court on behalf of a Lawyer or an individual.
Edith set many precedents in her career. She was the inaugural woman to appear at the Bar. At the age of 28, she became the number one woman to receive a prestigious ‘red bag’ traditionally gifted by a ‘King’s Counsel’ KC Barrister in recognition of contributing over and above the call of duty.
Her greatest legal achievement was becoming the first woman to preside over the County Court as a Deputy Judge, which was reported in newspapers with surprised headlines like: ‘Woman acts as Judge’!
A centenary event at Gray’s Inn is planned to take place on Monday 12th of June, marking 100 years of women at the Bar. There will be a film screening and talks held, showcasing the impact female Barristers have had over the last century.
The former Vice Chair of The Association of Women Barristers and Founder of Women in the Law UK, Sally Penni MBE, is set to star in the film documentary. She is a practicing Barrister at Kenworthy’s Chambers in Manchester, a leading set for diversity and inclusion, and the first on the Northern circuit to achieve equal numbers of female/male member Barristers.
Sally Penni MBE said: “Edith Hesling is an aspirational figure. Not only did her trailblazing career inspire four generations of women in her family to study law, but she was also the figure who kicked open the door for all women in the legal profession.
“This centenary event is an opportunity to celebrate how far we have come and reflect on the work that still needs to be done in so many areas and the barriers that remain.
Mary Ruck KC, Barrister at Byrom Street Chambers in Manchester, added: “As a society, we should not have to wait another 100 years for there to be equality and diversity within the judiciary.”
Other notable Northern practitioners in the documentary include Sally Harrison KC at St John’s buildings and Olivia Choudhry Deans Court.
The ‘100 Years of Women at Gray’s Inn’ event took place on Monday 12th of June in the Bingham Room in Gray’s Inn and was free to attend for all Gray’s Inn members. The event was attended by Edith’s great-granddaughter herself as well as many prominent pioneering women who were interviewed as a part of the film.
There will also be a screening taking place at 5:30 pm on the 29th of June at the Gallery Hall in the Manchester Hall next door to Lincoln House. To reserve a place at the Manchester screening email [email protected]