After studying Law at Oxford and gaining the marks for a first-class honours degree, Gwyneth Bebb was rejected not only from gaining her award but from applying to sit her Barr exams also. As mentioned previously in our first Women in Law blog, women could not practice as professional lawyers before the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 or even be granted the award they had studied for.
It was Gwyneth Bebb that was behind the movement fighting for woman to be officially recognised as legal professionals. In the famous case of Bebb v Law Society she fought for woman to be regarded as “persons” under the Solicitors Act 1843. Being female was classed as a “disability” and she lost on the grounds of precedent with the court ruling that it was the parliaments duty to change the law and not for the courts in this instance.
Despite losing the case and the appeal her actions went on the spark the movement which led to the introduction of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919. She travelled around the country along with other woman raising awareness and spreading their cause, it was her persistence and determination that allowed for woman to become fully qualified and practicing lawyers.
Unfortunately Gwetyth Bebb died from child birth complications whilst studying for her Barr exam so she never got the chance to utilise what she had worked so hard to achieve but 176 years later: woman now make up 48% of all lawyers in the United Kingdom and 47% of the workforce, exceeding the number of male practising lawyers for the first time in 2017.
By Hannah Ritchie
GCU Law Clinic Volunteer, LLB3