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Our male-dominated judiciary must change

The alarming lack of women in senior positions across the entire judiciary and criminal justice system in Northern Ireland can only be a matter for considerable concern and deserves to be urgently addressed.

As a comprehensive investigation by The Irish News revealed yesterday, this is the only jurisdiction in Ireland or the UK not to have a female representative sitting at least as a judge at High Court level.

Our coverage also pointed out that the offices of Police Ombudsman, justice minister, attorney general and director of public prosecutions are all held by men and not a single woman is to be found in the senior command team of the PSNI or serving on the Stormont justice committee.

There is a very different picture across the border, where the posts of attorney general, director of public prosecutions, chief justice and Garda commissioner are all occupied by women.

It would be hard to disagree with the assessment of Baroness Nuala O'Loan, a former Police Ombudsman, who has described the shortage of women in key northern roles as `entirely unacceptable.'

The notable contributions to public life previously made by Baroness O'Loan and the former deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie should logically have made it easier for other capable women to follow in their footsteps.

Instead, for reasons which are difficult to understand in this day and age, related criminal justice sectors have become even more male dominated in recent years.

The fact that the ten judges appointed to the High Court since 2001, with a further five elevated to the Appeal Court since 2007, have all been men hardly sends out a positive message in terms of the equality agenda.

Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan has spoken openly of the need to encourage more women to participate in the senior judiciary and it will be noted that there are three vacancies for High Court judges at the moment.

It must be expected that at least one woman will at long last emerge as a High Court judge, and there will be widespread hopes that other similar promotions can take place elsewhere in the near future

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