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Appointment of senior women judges a welcome step

The appointment of two women as High Court judges yesterday marked a welcome step forward in terms of addressing a gender imbalance at senior levels of the judiciary in Northern Ireland.

Denise McBride QC and Siobhan Keegan QC were sworn in by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan at a ceremony in Belfast, a landmark event which has received widespread media coverage.

In August, The Irish News highlighted the alarming lack of female representation at the highest levels of the judiciary. At the time, Baroness Nuala O'Loan said the shortage of women in key roles in the judiciary and criminal justice system was ``entirely unacceptable.''

The Lord Chief Justice has spoken of his efforts to ensure the judiciary is reflective of the community while maintaining the merit principle.

Certainly, there are many able women in the legal profession and with a small number already working in the county courts, it is difficult to understand why it has taken so long for suitable candidates to break through to the higher echelons.

To put matters into perspective, until yesterday Northern Ireland was the only jurisdiction in Ireland and Britain to have no women presiding in the High Court or above.

It is worth noting that in the Republic, women hold several key posts, including that of chief justice and Garda commissioner.

And while yesterday's appointments are a very encouraging development, it is clear Northern Ireland still has a considerable way to go to ensure women are fully represented at the highest levels of the criminal justice system.

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