What has the law done for women? ‘Women and the Law’ updates the answers

Thursday 27 September 2018

Women and the Law, the first book in the UK to examine how the law has perceived and responded to women, is being given a new lease of life.

Written 34 years ago by Susan Atkins and Brenda Hoggett (Brenda Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond and the first female president of the Supreme Court), this influential text will be republished on 30 September by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS) at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. The new edition, available as a free PDF download and £25 paperback and celebrated with a special event in London on 4 December (see below), marks the 100th anniversary of women acquiring the vote.

Women and the Law is not a legal textbook. It examines the origins of British law’s attitude to women and traces the development of the law and ways in which it reflects the influence of economic, social and political forces and the dominance of men. A quick Google search shows it referenced by scholarly articles in every decade since publication. It was short­listed for the Fawcett Prize, and described by Hilaire Barnett’s Sourcebook of Feminist Jurisprudence as ‘One of the first legal texts on women and the law in Britain.’Since 1984 the authors, have achieved distinguished careers in law and public service. They set out to illustrate the tendency, despite formal equality, for deep-rooted problems of encoded gender inequality to remain.

Commenting on its re-release Dr Susan Atkins CB said ‘Our message in 1984 was that the law was based on an experience that was usually male, although it purported to be objective and gender neutral. Looked at from the experience of women’s lives and concerns, there were huge gaps and deficiencies in the law, which Women and the Law exposed.’

‘The open-access edition sketches out how the law has developed in key areas since 1984. A new foreword examines why Women and the Law was important, where progress has been made, stalled or is at risk. And it explains why, in the face of new challenges, a feminist approach is still necessary.’

Dr Atkins reflects on how the law has changed since the book was first published. For instance, up until 1991 it was still legal for a man to rape his wife. It was considered that a woman, on marriage, gave up her right to refuse sexual intercourse.

However, in the place of old crimes, new ones have risen – online abuse and misogyny has increased exponentially with the development of the internet and social media. One in five women has experienced online abuse, and the law is busy developing a framework to help combat this.

There have been many legal triumphs for women’s rights over the years but, as recent times have proven, these rights are not always guaranteed. Therefore, this classic book has a new and pressing relevance.

In their introductory essay, the authors state: ‘Only when women are aware of the extent of the discrimination against them, of how it operates and how to use the law to their own ends will further progress be made.’

A celebration of the republication of Women and the Law
On 4 December (6–730 pm), we will be celebrating the republication of this landmark work at an event in the IALS Council Chamber, Charles Clore House, 17 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DR. It comprises a conversation between the authors and Professor Fiona Cownie (Keele), and a panel discussion, chaired by Professor Diamond Ashiagbor (Kent and IALS), on the lasting impact of the original work on their own thinking, careers and lives.

Other confirmed speakers include Christina Blacklaws (president, The Law Society); Professor Alison Diduck (UCL); Professor Linda Mulcahy (LSE/Oxford); Professor Erika Rackley (Kent).

This event, which includes a wine reception and networking, is free but advance booking is required. 


Notes for editors:

For further information and review copies, please contact: Lauren De’Ath, Publications and Marketing Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London / Lauren.de-ath@sas.ac.uk.

About the Book
Title: Women and the Law
Authors: Susan Atkins and Brenda Hoggett
ISBN: 978-1-911507-10-9 (paperback)
Publication Date: 30 September 2018
Price: £25

About the writers
Dr Susan Atkins, CB, was a law academic for 12 years, specialising in anti-discrimination law. She joined the civil service in 1989. Her posts included deputy chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission, departmental equal opportunities officer for the Home Office and director of the Women and Equality Unit in Women in the Cabinet Office. In 2003, Dr Atkins became the first chief executive of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. She was the first independent service complaints commissioner for the Armed Forces from 2007–15.

Brenda Hoggett, now the Rt Hon the Baroness Hale of Richmond, DBE, and president of the Supreme Court of the UK, became a High Court Judge in 1994, having taught law at the University of Manchester for 18 years and promoted reform of the law at the Law Commission for more than nine. In 1999, she was appointed to the Court of Appeal and in 2004 to the appellate committee of the House of Lords, which, in 2009, became the Supreme Court. She was appointed deputy president in 2013 and its first female president in 2017. Lady Hale is also president of the United Kingdom Association of Women Judges.