Skip to main content

Masters of the Bench

Back to the Bench Directory

Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston QC

Full Title: Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston QC
Category: Ordinary Bencher
Bench Call Date: 7.6.2005
Call Date: 25.11.1980

In January 2006, Eleanor Sharpston became the first woman appointed by the UK as Advocate General at the European Court of Justice.

She studied Economics, Languages and Law at King’s College, Cambridge and went on to teach and conduct legal research at Corpus Christi College, Oxford. She faced great obstacles, both financial and social, in establishing herself.

‘When I went to the Bar, women were tolerated but not encouraged,’ she recounts. ‘It was assumed that they would (only) do family law. The idea that a girl would want to do something that required pure intellectual reasoning, such as European Community law, was Martian. When I explained at pupillage interviews that this was what I hoped to do, the usual response was a bemused smile.’

Eleanor (Leo to her friends) won two Major Scholarships from Middle Temple. One of these, the Sir Peter Bristow Scholarship, was the only EC Law Scholarship at the Bar at that time. She has since hosted Bristow Scholars at her Chambers at the ECJ for many years, and all of them are hugely grateful to her.

During her pupillage, Eleanor worked as a motorcycle courier ‘to deal with the occasional cash flow crisis’. She worked in a solicitor’s office in Brussels, then in Jeremy Lever QC’s Brussels Chambers.
When Eleanor heard that posts for law clerks were being created at the ECJ she says: ‘I leapt onto my 250cc motorbike and drove from London to Luxembourg so that I could  “accidentally”  drop in to see Sir Gordon Slynn, then British Advocate General at the ECJ, and ask him for a job. Cheek paid off, and professional and financial meltdown were avoided’.

Eleanor has combined practice in EU law with academic teaching at University College  London and the University of Cambridge, where she is a Fellow of King’s College. She took Silk in 1999 and was elected a Bencher in 2005. She was made an Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford (2010); LLD (honoris causa) of Glasgow (2010), Nottingham Trent (2011) and Stockholm Universities (2014); and Honorary Professor of the Riga Graduate School of Law (2011).

She is also a karate black belt and a square-rigger sailor.