Black and white photo of Dame Rose Heilbron as King's Counsel

Rose Heilbron (1914-2005) QC, barrister and judge, became the first woman appointed to the senior judiciary in England, when she became Recorder of Burnley in 1956. She was also one of the first two women barristers (with Helena Normanton) to be appointed King’s Counsel. She went on to become the second woman High Court judge in 1974.

Thus, while Heilbron’s judicial appointment was not a great surprise, it was by no means a certainty. Although, after the enactment of Sex Disqualification Act 1919, there were no fewer that 3,700 women Justices of Peace, the progress of women to judiciary was significantly slower. The women who paved the way for Heilbron’s judicial career, namely Sybil Campbell as the first stipendiary magistrate in 1945 and Dorothy Dix as deputy recorder of Deal in 1946, had faced a great deal of prejudice publicly and privately.

Heilbron showed that women could combine highly successful career and happy family life without being pilloried by the press … Behind the scenes, she acted as mentor and inspiration to many aspiring professional women. However, her appointment is not only an important legal landmark but for all women – as demonstrated by the queues, consisting particularly of women and girls, to see the first opening of Burnley Quarter Sessions following her appointment.
Laura Lammasniemi

The full version of this landmark is written by Laura Lammasniemi.


Learn More

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘Obituary: Dame Rose Heilbron’

Hilary Heilbron, ‘Women at the Bar: An Historical Perspective’ (Counsel