In the long 143-year history of the Supreme Court of Cassation of Bulgaria (SCC), the trends related to gender representation are clearly distinguished chronologically.
Over a long period of almost eighty years, the SCC was invariably composed of male judges. The first female supreme judge was only elected and appointed in 1957. After 1960, a trend towards increasing the number of female judges in the SCC could be identified, and in 1986, 15 out of 53 judges were women. After 1990, the trend of a gradual increase in the proportion of female judges intensified, and in 1996, their number rose to 37 out of a total of 55 judges. Since then, increased participation of women in the judicial profession has been observed. The current ratio is clearly shaped in favor of women: approximately 4:1, and currently only 21 of 91 SCC judges are men.
I was given a range of topics to write on, all gravitating inter alia around the obstacles women judges face in carrying out or advancing judicial careers. I, however, found myself pondering and ruminating over penning a few words. Then the questions started emerging from nowhere. Why was I querying myself? Why the catechism of sorts? The answer was simple, one that should have become obvious almost immediately; women predominate the Superior Courts of The Gambia at a ratio of 4:3 vis-à-vis men. Ergo, the Judiciary of The Gambia has recorded laudable progress in the quest for gender parity.
I believe the next obvious question is, how did we get there? The journey was not a mean feat. Historically, foreign judges manned the Judiciary of The Gambia, the plurality of whom were sent under technical assistance programs via the benevolence of other sister common law jurisdictions. Whilst The Gambia's first indigenous lawyer was called to Bar at the Inner Temple in 1897, its first female lawyer was only enrolled to practice the law some eight or so decades later in 1979. The first woman judge was not appointed until on or about 1993.
The International Women's Day has been celebrated on 8 March for many years as an important reminder that we need equality in all the areas of life and that women play and must play an irreplaceable role in that. Do we still need such a reminder? Yes, we absolutely do. It is because we can see that women at many places in the world, still do not possess equality and even worse, at some places women still do not possess basic rights. In addition to that, the world needs a balance and equal participation of women is simply essential to that.
In judiciary, women play a very special role. It is not about the equality only, it goes beyond that. In all judiciaries, at national and international courts, judges interpret the law, they decide about others. To be a good judge, it is never sufficient enough to know the law well. In fact, excellent knowledge of the law is an obvious prerequisite for a solid judicial performance. However, we judges should be endowed with something else as well, something that we call a sense for justice, a sense for fairness.
On my elevation to the Office of Chief Justice, you would have seen or read popular taglines referring to me as the first woman Chief Justice of Malaysia. Soon after my elevation, I have always stated that my position is not at all determined or indeed, coloured by my gender.
In Malaysia, women are represented in all facets of the judiciary, be it the subordinate court or the superior courts. Therefore, the issue of gender diversity within the Malaysian Judiciary may not be as pervasive as one may think. The former President of the Court of Appeal was a woman and approximately half of the judges in Malaysia are women. In the Federal Court, amongst the eight judges sitting on the Bench, five are women.
Nevertheless, there remain many instances in the legal profession dealing with the concept of access to justice in the context of gender equality. I often emphasise the importance of diversity and representation within the judiciary as it provides female clients representation, a sense of safety and confidence inside the courtroom.
In many countries all over the world, judges have to disclose their finances and interests, often to the public and accessible online. The disclosures bring along an administrative burden for judges: they need to fill in a comprehensive set of data for themselves and for their immediate family members; they need to regularly update the data, ideally online, otherwise on paper; and, they need to accept that in most cases these asset declarations are available to the public online, with only sensitive data being redacted, such as addresses, bank account numbers, or number plates.