Sybil Campbell

Last updated

Sybil Campbell

Born(1889-10-09)9 October 1889
Died29 August 1977(1977-08-29) (aged 87)
Burial place Lochgilphead, Argyll, Scotland
Alma mater Girton College, Cambridge
OccupationStipendiary magistrate
Years active1945–1961
Relatives William Bovill (Grandfather)

Sybil Campbell OBE (9 October 1889 – 29 August 1977) was the first woman to be appointed as a stipendiary magistrate in Britain when she became metropolitan police magistrate at Tower Bridge Magistrate's Court in 1945. She was thus the first woman to be a professional magistrate or judge in Britain, and remained the only full-time woman magistrate or judge in England until her retirement in 1961 and the appointment of Elizabeth Lane as a county court judge in 1962.


Early life

Campbell was born on 9 October 1889 in British Ceylon, [1] where her father was an agent of a tea company, but she had family roots in Argyll. Her maternal grandfather was Sir William Bovill, Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, who presided at the long-running Tichborne case. She was educated at home and then from the age of 13 at a school in North Berwick. She studied Natural Sciences and Economics at Girton College, Cambridge from 1908, after some preparatory study in Paris and Edinburgh. [2]

She was an investigating officer with the Trade Boards from 1913 to 1918, and an enforcement officer with the Ministry of Food in the First World War. After the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 removed barriers on women becoming barristers and solicitors, Ivy Williams was the first woman to be called to the bar in England, at the Inner Temple in May 1922. Campbell joined the Middle Temple in 1920, and was one of ten women called to the bar at Middle Temple on 17 November 1922. [3]

She practised as a barrister in the chambers of H. H. Joy, and returned to the Ministry of Food as an Enforcement Officer in London in the Second World War. For this work, she was appointed as an officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1942. [4]

The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act also allowed women to become judges, and there were around 3700 women justices of the peace (unpaid lay magistrates) by 1947, but no women had been appointed as full-time professional judge until Campbell was appointed as a stipendiary magistrate by the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison in April 1945. Despite some questions about her suitability for the office, her appointment was confirmed, and she quickly gained a reputation for passing severe sentences. Despite some initial controversy in the press, she continued as a stipendiary magistrate until she reached the mandatory retirement age of 72 in 1962. Although Dorothy Knight Dix was appointed as deputy recorder of Deal in January 1946 and Rose Heilbron was appointed as recorder for Burnley in November 1956, Campbell remained the only woman to be appointed as a full-time judge in Britain until Elizabeth Lane became a county court judge in 1962. [5]

Later life

She was Honorary Secretary of the British Federation of University Women from 1921 to 1933 and its honorary vice-president from 1947 to 1977. She was deeply involved in the establishment of Crosby Hall in Chelsea as a hall of residence for international women postgraduate students. Campbell was also a member of the council at Girton College from 1933 to 1942.

Campbell then retired to Lochgilphead, Argyll. She died at Bon Secours Nursing Home in Langside, Glasgow on 29 August 1977 and was buried in Lochgilphead. [1] She never married.

Related Research Articles

Justice of the peace Judicial officer elected or appointed to keep the peace and perform minor civic jobs

A justice of the peace (JP) is a judicial officer of a lower or puisne court, elected or appointed by means of a commission to keep the peace. In past centuries the term commissioner of the peace was often used with the same meaning. Depending on the jurisdiction, such justices dispense summary justice or merely deal with local administrative applications in common law jurisdictions. Justices of the peace are appointed or elected from the citizens of the jurisdiction in which they serve, and are usually not required to have any formal legal education in order to qualify for the office. Some jurisdictions have varying forms of training for JPs.

Brenda Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond British jurist

Brenda Marjorie Hale, Baroness Hale of Richmond, is a British judge who served as President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom from 2017 until her retirement in 2020, and serves as a member of the House of Lords as a Lord Temporal.

Helena Normanton

Helena Florence Normanton, KC was the first woman to take advantage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 and join an institution of the legal profession. In November 1922, she was the second woman to be called to the Bar of England and Wales, following the example set by Ivy Williams in May 1922. When she married she kept her surname and in 1924 she was the first British married woman to have a passport in the name she was born with.

Rose Heilbron British judge

Dame Rose Heilbron DBE was a High Court judge, previously a barrister of the post-war period in the United Kingdom. Her career included many "firsts" for a woman – she was the first woman to achieve a first class honours degree in law at the University of Liverpool, the first woman to win a scholarship to Gray's Inn, one of the first two women to be appointed King's Counsel in England, the first woman to lead in a murder case, the first woman recorder, the first woman judge to sit at the Old Bailey, and the first woman treasurer of Gray's Inn. She was also the second woman to be appointed a High Court judge, after Elizabeth Lane.

Elizabeth Lane

Dame Elizabeth Kathleen Lane, DBE was an English barrister and judge. She was the first woman appointed as a judge in the County Court, the first female High Court judge in England, and the first female bencher.

High Court (Hong Kong)

The High Court of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, consists of the Court of Appeal and the Court of First Instance; it deals with criminal and civil cases which have risen beyond the lower courts. It is a superior court of record of unlimited civil and criminal jurisdiction. It was named the Supreme Court before 1997. Though previously named the Supreme Court, this Court has long been the local equivalent to the Senior Courts of England and Wales and has never been vested with the power of final adjudication.

Judiciary of England and Wales

There are various levels of judiciary in England and Wales — different types of courts have different styles of judges. They also form a strict hierarchy of importance, in line with the order of the courts in which they sit, so that judges of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales are generally given more weight than district judges sitting in county courts and magistrates' courts. On 1 April 2020 there were 3,174 judges in post in England and Wales. Some judges with United Kingdom-wide jurisdiction also sit in England and Wales, particularly Justices of the United Kingdom Supreme Court and members of the tribunals judiciary.

Barbara Mills

Dame Barbara Jean Lyon Mills DBE QC was a British barrister. She held various senior public appointments including Director of Public Prosecutions, and was widely seen as a pioneer for women gaining such appointments in the higher echelons of the legal profession. At the time of her death she was Chair of the Professional Oversight Board.

Barbara Wootton, Baroness Wootton of Abinger British sociologist and criminologist

Barbara Wootton, Baroness Wootton of Abinger CH was a British sociologist and criminologist. She was one of the first four life peers appointed under the Life Peerages Act 1958. She was President of the British Sociological Association from 1959 to 1964.

Elsie Bowerman British lawyer and suffragette

Elsie Edith Bowerman was a British lawyer, suffragette, political activist, and RMS Titanic survivor.

Barbara Adamson Calvert, QC, known as Barbara, Lady Lowry after her second marriage, was a British barrister specialising in family law. She was the first woman to be a Head of Chambers when she founded 4 Brick Court in 1974.

Auvergne Doherty

Auvergne Mary Doherty, M.A., B.A. was an Australian businesswoman, working in her family's cattle business. She was one of the first nine women called to the bar in England; Doherty was the first Western Australian woman called to the English Bar; she did not go on to practise law in England or Western Australia. Instead, Doherty took over her father's business when he died in 1935.

Eleri Rees

Eleri Mair Rees is a Welsh judge. Since 18 June 2012, she has been the Resident Judge of Cardiff Crown Court and Recorder of Cardiff. She has been a circuit judge since 2002. She was called to the bar in 1975, and served as a Justices' clerk from 1983 to 1994 and as a stipendiary magistrate between 1994 and 2002.

Jane Hamilton Mathews was a judge of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, a judge of the Federal Court of Australia and President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

Peter Walter Goldstone was a British solicitor and judge. Among the first solicitors to be appointed to the bench, in 1980 he became the first solicitor to sit in the High Court.

Professor Johanne Erica "Jo" Delahunty, is a British barrister, judge, and legal academic. Called to the bar in 1986, she specialises in family law and child protection. She has also been a Recorder since 2009, and was the Gresham Professor of Law from 2016 to 2020.

Theodora Llewelyn Davies British barrister and penal reform campaigner

Theodora Llewelyn Davies was a British barrister and penal reform campaigner. She was the first woman to apply for admission to the British legal profession's Inner Temple in 1920 and one of the first to be admitted in November 1922.

Maud Crofts

Maud Isabel Ingram became Maud Isabel Crofts was the first British woman to be articled and the first to be a solicitor after a ten-year campaign from 1913 to 1923. Ivy Williams was the first to be called to the bar in 1922.

Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Siti Norma binti Yaakob is a retired Malaysian lawyer and judge, noted for being the first woman to become Chief Judge of Malaya. After completing her legal studies in London, England and being called to the bar in 1962, Siti Norma returned to Malaysia and worked her way up through the judicial system. She was the first Malaysian woman barrister of Malay heritage and the first woman to take up an executive position in the government's legal service, and she achieved many more "firsts" as she advanced in her career, finally becoming Chief Judge in 2005.



  1. 1 2 "Campbell, Sybil". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/61344.(Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. Polden 1999, p. 509.
  3. Polden 1999, p. 509–10.
  4. Polden 1999, p. 510.
  5. Polden 1999, p. 507.


Further reading