Masters of the Bench
Her Honour Isobel Plumstead
Full Title: Her Honour Isobel PlumsteadCategory: Ordinary Bencher
Bench Call Date: 2.5.2006
Call Date: 16.7.1970
Isobel Plumstead’s interest in the law was sparked as a child by reading magazines on the subject in the home of her family’s next door neighbour, a Police Inspector. Both her parents were firm believers in education for women. Her mother, being from the North, had two heroines: Kathleen Ferrier and Rose Heilbron.
Isobel read Jurisprudence at Oxford, when women were very much in the minority. She was awarded an Entrance Scholarship by Middle Temple, and also a Major Scholarship.
After pupillage, during which she learned the skill of advocacy by sitting behind a master of the art, her ambition was to become a combination of Marshall Hall and Mother Teresa.
Isobel’s (eventual) chambers initially sent out spies to watch her in court, largely to assure themselves that she would not burst into tears. They needed to be certain that they were ready to take in a woman.
Nevertheless, she was immensely happy in chambers, doing criminal, civil and family cases. She resisted the last, not wanting ‘women’s work’, but had to acknowledge that it was both rewarding and stimulating.
All personal reward, however, was dissipated when she started her own family – on child-care costs; her chambers, like most then, had no policy for maternity leave and made no concessions concerning contributions. Isobel’s contribution was to breastfeed in chambers meetings.
In 1990 she was appointed first a Deputy, then substantively a Registrar, in the Principal Registry of the Family Division. She was soon immersed in preparations for the implementation of the Children Act 1989, both learning and teaching.
Isobel served on the Judicial Studies Board, the Advisory Committee to the Judicial Appointments Commission, the Judges’ Council, as a Circuit Judge, a Deputy High Court Judge and as Designated Family Judge for Cambridgeshire; and as Secretary, then President of the Council of Her Majesty’s Circuit Judges. She was elected a Bencher in 2006 and currently Chairs Middle Temple’s Risk Committee. She was Autumn Reader 2014.
She still sits part-time as a Tribunal Judge in the Mental Health Jurisdiction.