Page 3 Profile: Alison Russell QC, judge


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The Independent Online

Who is Mrs Justice Russell?

That’s Ms Justice Russell, actually. Alison Russell QC, a senior High Court judge, has made history  by being the first to be referred  to as “Ms”.

Is that a big deal?

Usually women judges are referred to as “Mrs Justice”, regardless of whether they are married or not, and men are called “Mr Justice”. But the 55-year-old family law specialist – who is not married but lives with her partner in south London – has been given permission from the Lord Chief Justice to adopt the neutral form, “Ms Justice”.

A great step forward then?

It is a victory for feminists who believe terms of address used for men and women are unbalanced because women are expected to reveal their marital status while men don’t.

However, Ms Russell’s victory will not affect too many judges – because there are not very many of them who are women. Five women were nominated last year to be appointed High Court Judges – the highest ever number – but that was still just 36 per cent of the total.

It’s part of a wider problem in the legal profession: although women have made up more than half of new entrants since 1993, on average they’re still paid less  than men.

This isn’t the first time that terms of address have caused problems in the law courts. When Elizabeth Butler-Sloss became the first woman to serve as a judge in the Court of Appeal, she had to be known as Lord rather than Lady Justice as the law was yet to  be changed to recognise the  female form.

Have women been fighting to be called “Ms” for long?

The term is reputed to have been coined in 1961 by civil rights activist Sheila Michaels, after she saw a letter in which the “r” of “Mrs” had been missed out by accident.

The term began to enter wider usage only when a friend of iconic feminist Gloria Steinem heard it used in a radio interview and recommended to Ms Steinem for the name for her new magazine.

Why doesn’t everyone adopt it?

Far from everyone is a fan. Former MP Ann Widdecombe, for instance, insists on being known as Miss. “I’ve grown up with that title and it’s a perfectly good title. I can’t see the point of Ms and I don’t see it as an issue,” she has previously said. “It’s absolutely ridiculous. These titles have been around for a very long time. I use Ms if I don’t know what [people] call themselves. But if they mention that they are married then I’ll use Mrs.”