Faculty of Law

Faculty of Law
Faculty of Law

Citing feminist judgments in courts across the globe

(July 28, 2017)

Feminist legal scholar Professor Beverley Baines, Law’73
Feminist legal scholar Professor Beverley Baines, Law’73 (Photo by Greg Black)

When Professor Beverley Baines, Law’73, presented her “Women Judges on Constitutional Courts: Why not nine women?” paper at the annual International Society of Public Law (ICON-S) conference this month, she took the opportunity to promote a transformative project to leading legal minds from around the world.

“How can we make judges aware of decisions made by the Feminist Judgments Project?” she asked the distinguished panel of judges: Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (Supreme Court of Canada), Justice Marta Cartabia (VP of the Constitutional Court of Italy) and Judge András Sajó (Professor at Central European University and judge of the European Court of Human Rights). 

For the FJP, an international initiative, judgments are rewritten to present feminist analyses of their substantive legal content. This initiative relies on the work of scholars, lawyers and jurists across the globe, with projects originating in Canada, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, Ireland, Northern Ireland and other jurisdictions. “The goal of these rewritten feminist judgments is to say, ‘pause for a moment, read what you may not be taking into account in your judgment-making process, and consider it in your final decision,’” says Baines. 

This project, she added, has the potential to induce positive change for women within and beyond the field of law by taking into account their unique circumstances within societies across the globe.

McLachlin responded that for judges to take account of feminist judgments, advocates must first cite them in courts. Calling it a “powerful response,” Baines says it could allow for future rulings to be more beneficial for women if judges show a willingness to consider the rewritten decisions in courts. While feminist lawyers would be well-positioned to advocate for the FJP, she recognizes the ability of any FJP activist’s ability to support this initiative. “Activists can support this initiative by making themselves familiar with rewritten judgments that are relevant to their causes. They can use these judgments and draw attention to courts dealing with issues that could benefit from a feminist perspective in their legal analysis.”

The FJP is a transformative initiative that has the great potential to add a gendered analysis to legal issues before the courts. As a supporter of the project, Baines says this is just the beginning – she hopes to see a greater public awareness of the FJP as well as an increase in rewritten feminist rulings. 

Her efforts to bring attention to the FJP did not go unnoticed at ICON-S. “After the panel ended, an audience member thanked me for mentioning the FJP – she had never heard of the initiative but looked up ‘Feminist Judgments Project’ on the spot and immediately sent the information out to others on social media.” 

Discover more about the FJP and read specific judgments from the following sources: 

  • Baines, Beverley (2017), Women Judges and Constitutional Courts: Why Not Nine Women? in Constitutions and Gender (Helen Irving ed), Edward Elgar Publishing. 
  • Douglas, Heather, Francesca Bartlett, Trish Luker and Rosemary Hunter (eds) (2014), Australian Feminist Judgments: Righting and Rewriting Law, Hart Publishing.
  • Enright, Máiréad, Julie McCandless and Aoife O’Donoghue (eds) (2017), Northern/Irish Feminist Judgments: Judges’ Troubles and the Gendered Politics of Identity, Hart Publishing.
  • Hunter, Rosemary, Clare McGlynn and Erika Rackley (eds) (2010), Feminist Judgments: From Theory to Practice, Hart Publishing.
  • Lahey, Kathleen A., Feminist Judging for Substantive Gender Equality in Tax Law: Changing International and Comparative Constitutional Contexts (April 10 2017). In Introduction to Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Tax Opinions, Ch 2. Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Tax Opinions (Bridget J. Crawford & Anthony C. Infanti eds), Cambridge University Press, 2017, Forthcoming.
  • Réaume, Denise (ed.) (2006), ‘Special Issue: Rewriting Equality’, Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 18(1): 1.
  • Stanchi, Kathryn M., Linda L. Berger and Bridget J. Crawford (eds) (2016), Feminist Judgments: Rewritten Opinions of the United States Supreme Court (Feminist Judgment Series: Rewritten Judicial Opinions), Cambridge University Press.

Read more about 2017 conference on the ICON-S website.

By Chris Lupis