First 100 Years: celebrating the impact of pioneering women magistrates

Magistrates' courtNews

Alderman Elizabeth Rowley Frisby MBE JP 1877-1946

Alderman Elizabeth Rowley Frisby MBE JP 1877-1946

Descendants of the first female magistrates in Leicestershire and Rutland will join in the centenary celebrations of women entering the law.

They will be among hundreds of people expected to attend two days of events in March honouring trailblazing women who helped change the face of the magistracy in the region.

The year 2020 marks the centenary of women entering the law, as magistrates and judges, solicitors and barristers alike, following the passing of the Sex Discrimination (Removal) Act on December 24 1919.

Leicestershire Magistrates Association has organised two days of activities on Friday 13 and Saturday 14 March, to tie in with International Women’s Day. They include:

  • On Friday, the right Worshipful Lord Mayor of Leicester, Councillor Annette Byrne, has invited 100 people to tea at the Old Town Hall in Leicester.
    Guest speaker is Dr Anne Logan of Kent University, an expert on women in the magistracy. Many local dignitaries will attend.
    Current women magistrates will all wear hats in honour of their predecessors – female JPs were still wearing hats in some courts in the 1970s. This will make for a colourful photo opportunity on the Town Hall steps at 2.15pm.
  • And on Saturday, there is a re-enactment of the first trial to be presided over by a female justice in the UK – Ada Summers JP. The trial took place on 31 December 1919 in Stalybridge, Manchester just seven days after the Act was passed.
    Edward Nudd JP has written a play loosely based on that trial entitled ‘There is no smoke without fire’. Ada dealt with three chimney fires on her first day in court – serious offences in those days.
    The play will be performed to the public at Leicester Town Hall Court House at 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm. Free tickets can be booked by emailing or calling 07752 110419.
  • An exhibition on women magistrates will be on display at the Town Hall from 10am-4pm both days. It is free to attend.
Councillor Emily Comber Fortey B.Sc. JP 1866-1946

Councillor Emily Comber Fortey B.Sc. JP 1866-1946

Martin Pantling, Deputy Chairman of the Bench at Leicestershire & Rutland Magistrates’ Courts, has researched and compiled profiles of the 10 women magistrates who sat in Leicester City, five in Leicestershire and one in Rutland between 1920 and 1930.

These will feature in the Town Hall exhibition, as well as the ‘100 Years of Lady Magistrates in Leicestershire & Rutland’ Centenary brochure, which has been published in partnership with Leicester University. The brochure will be distributed free at the celebrations. Any donations go to Women’s Aid.

Mr Pantling said of the planned events: “We anticipate engaging with between 300/400 members of the public during the weekend.

“One of the nicest things is that a number of descendants of the first lady magistrates will be joining us to honour those trailblazing women who helped to change the face of the magistracy.”


Mrs Edith M. Bond JP 1869-1949

Mrs Edith M. Bond JP 1869-1949


Martin Pantling JP has kindly shared three of his 16 profiles of the pioneering female magistrates with the Judicial Office. They can be read below:



The First 100 Years (external link, opens in a new tab) is a ground-breaking history project, supported by the Law Society, Bar Council and CILEx, charting the journey of women in law since 1919. Visit their website to find out more about the campaign, forthcoming events and their digital museum.