View of the audience in the Gulbenkian

On Monday 29th October the Faculty of Law hosted its Inaugural Equality lecture. Joined by 245 University members and invited guests, Dean of the Faculty, Professor Anne Davies, introduced The Right Hon the Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE, President of The Supreme Court. Baroness Hale has been recognised as a pioneer for women in the legal profession. She was the first woman appointed to the Law Commission (1984), became the first woman Lord of Appeal in Ordinary in 2004, was the first female Justice of The Supreme Court (2009), and became the first woman appointed as its President (2017). This judicial experience made her an ideal speaker for this inaugural event. 

Baroness Hale began by examining the definition of equality and whether this is measured based upon the availability of equal opportunity, the production of equal outcomes, or something in between. She described the role of, and relationship between, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and anti-discrimination law in the UK, such as the Equality Act 2010. She led attendees to consider the legal treatment of direct and indirect discrimination using a number of cases that set precedent for future decisions and inform our current understanding. For instance, since direct discrimination cannot be justified, she provided examples of actions which have the intention of redressing previous inequalities but can be found to be unlawful. In addition, she addressed questions about what constitutes a ‘status,’ whether this status must exist independently of the discrimination, how ‘different’ the treatment must be, and how standards may differ based on the issue under consideration. This led to further discussion about the greater freedom given to individual states with regard to socioeconomic policy, such as those related to welfare benefits. 

Women in Law exhibition boards

The Equality Lecture has been created as a means of discussing the role of the law in addressing various inequalities. The timely inauguration of this event falls between the recent 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage (2018), and upcoming anniversaries for women entering the legal profession as practising barristers and solicitors (2019) and being awarded degrees at the University of Oxford (2020). In fact, exhibitions marking the 100th anniversary of women in law, including those highlighting the contributions of Oxford law graduates, were on display around the venue.  

The event was closed on the sentiment that fighting unjustifiable discrimination is not the same as achieving substantive equality and, rather than falling to one body, equality is the responsibility of us all. This fascinating lecture gave rise to engaging discussion spurred by additional questions from the audience, which continued throughout the evening.

A drinks reception, graciously funded by Blackstone Chambers, followed the lecture.