THE HIGH Bailiff of Alcester has defended the traditionally male-dominated Court Leet following accusations of sexism.
Kathrin Foster and Emma Randle challenged the centuries-old institution – whose ceremonial tradition is derived from the historic civil courts of England – thought to be the only one of 22 across the country that does not allow women to vote or stand for any positions.
They spoke out last October at Alcester Town Hall as the ‘great and the good’ gathered to elect the new High Bailiff of the Court Leet at its AGM.
The women stood to vote for a bailiff but were told to sit down because only men were allowed to do so. They argued the court represented a ‘civic duty’, which should be open to everyone, and was not a ‘club’ as it had been previously referred to.
But in response court representatives said they did not want to change the structure to include women as jury members or officers.
Further backlash on social media has now prompted High Bailiff Paul Stephens to issue a statement arguing to diminish the tradition to a ‘sexist movement’ was ‘wrong and abrasive’.
He wrote: “In a perfect world, all female, all male and mixed gender groups would co-exist, maybe even work in concert with one another, without discrimination or detriment to the other, the town, or society as a whole. The fact that these groups and societies exist in 21st century Britain and in such a democratic age is a testament to equality.
“Alcester Court Leet has existed for over 700 years, surviving wars, plagues and white papers. The powers have now gone and it simply continues as a ceremonial court carrying and re-enacting the duties as was back in its time. Alcester Court Leet is fortunate to be amongst a healthy group of functioning local courts that on a nationwide scale are diminishing.”
The original charter saw free male burgesses of the manor of Alcester stand as jurymen and/or officers on pledging an oath – and the all male membership has continued to this day.
But Mr Stephens pointed out wives and partners of officers now played an important part in the work of the court throughout the year.
Mr Stephens added: “Alcester Court Leet today simply put is 18 men who work hard without remuneration for the good of the tradition and colour of the Court Leet and the town and Manor of Alcester, to simply denigrate this to a sexist movement is both wrong and abrasive.”
He went on to say although women could not be jurymen or officers, it was a privilege to work alongside them including societies like the Women’s Institute.
He concluded: “Equality does not always have to mean integration or inclusion, it has to be of a mutually respected movement where both can co-exist and work with each other. Opportunity is never far away to achieve this and to not encroach without due care and attention.
“Alcester Court Leet as it stands today is not broken, does not need a facelift nor upgrading, and should be able to exist freely to work without prejudice or discord for the good of the town as well as any other group no matter their gender memberships. It will carry on until it sees fit to maybe including women for the tradition to survive in the future.”