Lady Cosgrove interview

I was educated at the Glasgow High School for Girls and Glasgow University. In the Law Faculty there I enjoyed the benefit of excellent teaching which laid the foundation for my subsequent career.

I was admitted to the Faculty of Advocates in 1968. I had been strongly advised not to think of becoming an advocate by several lawyers, including the Professor in whose class I had taken first prize. I was warned that the bar was “not the place for a woman.” At that time there were only one or two women advocates, but I was not deterred. It was a hard struggle to build up a practice. The most difficult time came when I had my first child. It was widely expected that I would not return after the birth. I was determined not to give up the modest practice I was by then enjoying and, in order to demonstrate that I was there to stay, had to go to the length of returning to work within a very short time after the birth.

A few years later when I was only 33 I was fortunate to be invited to be a part time sheriff. I loved that work and was very happy when I was later offered a full time appointment as a sheriff at Glasgow. Not only did I enjoy judging more than I had enjoyed being an advocate but it was, I found, a more structured way of life and easier to combine with home and family. I later became a sheriff at Edinburgh. During that time I was invited to be one of the small pool of sheriffs serving as part time judges, and in 1996 I was appointed  a Senator of the College of Justice in Scotland. I was the first woman to hold that office in the 500 year history of the Court. A few years later I was promoted to the First Division of the Inner House where I ended my career.

During the course of my judicial career I was a member of the Parole Board for Scotland and chaired the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland and also the Boundary Commission. I also chaired an Expert panel on Sexual Offending.

It was often a challenging experience being the lone female. I was viewed with a degree of suspicion, although mostly with courtesy. I overcame any obstacles by always working hard and giving of my best to every task in hand in an effort to demonstrate that I was as safe a pair of hands as any of my male colleagues. I strived to be assertive, but never aggressive. 

I am happy to say that, as I always hoped, my appointment as a Senator has been followed by that of several women. We now have a female Lord Justice Clerk. Women are also now far better represented on the sheriff court bench. So there has been real progress in achieving gender diversity.

To improve gender diversity within the judiciary I would introduce more opportunity for part time working and job sharing arrangements. I would also encourage the recognition of a career path from the sheriff court bench to the Court of Session bench. The skills required by a QC are different from those that make a good judge. The very best training for a Court of Session judge is as a sheriff.

I would advise aspiring students seeking to enter the legal profession that if they are prepared to work hard they will enjoy a very satisfying career. Also, no matter how interesting or engrossing a legal problem may be, they should never lose sight of the fact that in every legal case there are human lives involved.