The Supreme Court has sat a majority of women on the bench for the first time in New Zealand’s history.
On Tuesday, three women and two men made up the full bench of the country’s highest court, putting New Zealand ahead of comparable countries in terms of gender equality at the highest level of the judiciary.
The New Zealand Law Society said the recent retirement of Justice Terence Arnold from the six permanent court members meant the court was now made up of 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 said the sitting was 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.”
While the court made history on Tuesday, there was still progress to be made, Beck said.
Over the whole judiciary, 68 per cent of judges were 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,” she said.
The progress towards gender equality in the judiciary had been made thanks to efforts by 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.”
HOW WE COMPARE
The Supreme Court of New Zealand has a bench of five judges, including three women.
The High Court of Australia has a bench of seven judges, including three women.
The Supreme Court of Canada has a bench of nine judges, including four women.
The Supreme Court of the United States has a bench of nine judges, including three women.
The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has a bench of 11 judges, including just one woman.