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Signs of progress as courts support barrister’s childcare responsibilities

Robertson: Court staff were beyond helpful

A barrister has spoken about her “really positive” recent experiences of courts accommodating “the practicalities and balancing acts being carried out by those with children”.

Fiona Robertson of 2 Hare Court in London said the measures put in place “have allowed me to retain my cases and significantly reduced my stress in returning to work”.

Writing on Twitter, she recounted how, at the Old Bailey last week, “the court staff were beyond helpful ensuring I had a private room to pump in”.

In another instance, when notified an appeal was due to be listed soon, “I replied explaining despite my maternity leave out of office I would conduct the appeal but would appreciate as much notice as possible to arrange childcare. The list office immediately responded offering a choice of dates”.

Ms Robertson said the judge for a trial she was appearing at next week has agreed to a 10.30 start and slightly extended lunch break “so I can pump, eat and conduct a conference with my client over the lunch break”.

The judge also wrote to ask if there was anything else that could assist and the court also allocated her a room for pumping.

Ms Robertson said: “We shouldn’t be apologetic or worried about asking for reasonable measures to assist and hopefully this signals the courts are keen to accommodate needs where possible.

“Imagine the impact this approach could have on the retention of women at the criminal bar if it was adopted throughout the court estate along with retaining CVP hearings.”

My Learned Friends, a group of barristers working on retention and progress at the Bar, tweeted: “The more we share these positives the more others will feel they can ask for this themselves.”

Among those responding were Carly Henley, a barrister at Dere Street Chambers in the North-East, who tweeted: “This is so good to hear. I have two little ones and extended my maternity leave each time by sitting as a Family Recorder in my local Court Centre. I was supported to breast feed my babies each lunch break. My leadership judge arranged for secure parking for my husband.

“Security let my husband and each baby through and I got to spend my lunch breaks with them.

“When our second was 6 months old I attended a JAC interview in London to get my s9 ticket. I took my baby and husband with me as I was still feeding the baby. When we arrived they let me have a room to feed him in before the interview. Made it manageable and I was appointed.”