The case is likely to cause further embarrassment to Lord Irvine of Lairg, the Lord Chancellor, who is in charge of the Attorney-General's office. Two week ago, Lord Irvine was himself accused of operating an illegal old boys' network by solicitor Jane Coker, who is also bringing a discrimination case.
Josephine Hayes lodged her complaint against John Morris the Attorney- General, with an industrial tribunal in south London earlier this week. She is suing on the grounds that the Government shows bias in favour of men when appointing lawyers to represent it in civil cases.
Ms Hayes's lawyer, Sara Leslie of Irwin Mitchell in London, said her client is taking action over appointments to four lists of lawyers used to represent the Government.
Ms Leslie says the names on three of the lists are exclusively male. On the fourth there are 13 women out of 71 names, but this list is known as the supplementary list and deals with more routine and minor cases.
"What Josephine Hayes claims is that she is an excellent candidate for one of these jobs but has never been given the opportunity to be considered or apply. What we are saying is that there is no objective selection criteria and no application of equal opportunities," said Ms Leslie.
Ms Hayes has a first class law degree from Oxford University and a master's degree from Yale University in America. She is a junior counsel who has been in civil practice for 16 years and is also chairwoman of the Association of Women Barristers.
Ms Leslie said the appointment of lawyers to the lists was known within the profession as the "secret soundings".
She added: "We understand the Attorney-General makes appointments taking the views of the Treasury Solicitor, government departments, members of the judiciary and senior members of the Bar - what is known as `secret soundings'.
"Applicants are restricted to barristers these particular people happen to know. The upshot of it is out of 116 barristers acting for the Government in civil proceedings only 13 are women ... a very small proportion of the women in practice where 28 per cent of barristers are women.
"Unless the system is transparent there can be no confidence that gender is not a criteria for appointments."
She added. "Sex is an issue because the lists are so predominately male."
However, the Attorney General yesterday rejected Ms Hayes's claim. A statement from his office said: "The Attorney General rejects any suggestion of discrimination and will strongly oppose this application."
The tribunal is expected to have a hearing within the next three or four months.Reuse content