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Gray’s Inn Premiere Film to Mark Centenary of Women at the Bar

Gray’s Inn celebrated the centenary of the first woman it called to the Bar with a short film premiere.  Edith Hesling achieved this in June 1923, a monumental milestone.  I had the privilege of attending and realised my long-held desire of meeting The Rt Hon Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE in person, having studied her judgments at BPP University.

The film was a compilation of interview contributions by various women in the profession who provided personal insights to their journeys.

Edith’s great granddaughter, Deborah Airey, who is following in her footsteps of being a barrister and is also a student member of Gray’s Inn outlined her reasons for joining the profession and remarked as to her grandmother’s legacy. Specifically, her amazing professional achievements such as, being the first woman to be given a red bag and presiding as Deputy Judge in County Court. Interestingly, Deborah’s mother, Edith’s granddaughter, also ventured into the legal world albeit as a Solicitor.

Baroness Hale who herself has had a remarkable legal career and is revered by many in the legal field owing to her impeccable legacy, particularly being the first woman to serve on the Supreme Court and its first woman president, recalled the absurdity and misogyny that Edith Hesling faced during her time. For instance, despite Edith’s Record of Student admissions to Gray’s Inn from Heaton Moore In Stockport on 4 October 1920 and having maintained her 12 terms, 3 years later, on the date of her admission, she was listed as a man. An absurdity that beggars belief and no doubt was done deliberately to undermine such a special milestone.

Other contributors to the video who were also on the panel included Dr Sally Penni MBE, who has been a practising Barrister in law for many years. She reinforced the notion that women are welcome in the profession and experts in their own right who are just as capable as their male counterparts. Dr Penni’s various other roles certainly add credence to this. She has served as a Judge for National Paralegal Awards, Inns of Court Approved Advocacy Trainer, Trained Pupil Supervisor, Ambassador for Women on Boards UK for many years, just to name a few.

Rt Hon Lady Justice Nicola Davies DBE, the current Treasurer at Gray’s Inn, alluded to the recognition of the issues women face. Such as caring responsibilities which are not just limited to children but can also include that of elderly parents. Sentiments echoed by fellow panellists who had personally experienced the pressures that flow from this.

Rt Hon Lady Rose of Colmworth DBE conceded that although the Bar is still very much a male dominated profession, there is a great appreciation of the value in having diversity of perspectives. Male allies are on the rise, championing and supporting women in their various endeavours. Case in point, the video premiere at Grays Inn had input from some men who displayed unfeigned enthusiasm in celebrating women at the Bar.

Moreover, it is undeniable that strides have been made since the last century; glass ceilings are being shattered as more women from various diverse backgrounds are joining the profession and being promoted to senior positions.

Having children is no longer the career-ender it once was deemed to be. The implementation of hybrid working policies following the pandemic has been another tangible example of a positive turning of the tide

The Digital Content and Marketing Team which included Harriet Roden did a superb job. They had the mammoth task of editing hours of invaluable content and whittling it down to just over a few minutes. I was left wanting more and even suggested that they make this into a mini-series.

An upcoming screening of the film has been scheduled for the 29th of June in Manchester, Edith Hesling’s home city.  

To find out more or attend please sign up on the link below


Charity Mafuba

Contracts Co-ordinator -Trading Team (Back Office) Shell | New York Attorney and Counselor-at-Law | Solicitor (England and Wales)


June 23