For the first time, women will be admitted as Freewomen to the Roll of Freemen of the City of Lancaster. This Saturday, 9 July, the Court of Admission sits from 10am in the Council Chamber at Lancaster Town Hall and the public are welcome to attend if they can be in their seats by 9.45am.
In June, Lancaster City Council invited people who met the criteria to apply to join the roll. But their invitation specified that all applicants be male. Following a challenge by a local woman (see previous report), the criteria were re-examined and it was discovered that the council were legally obliged to admit applications from women under just one category - that of being the daughter of a Freeman. Ms Simpson was informed of this discovery. It didn't apply to her but, after a few days of her reminding them, the council was kind enough to issue an amended Press Release, inviting those women that it did apply to.
Applications have indeed been received from women and it now remains with the Court of Admission to determine their validity.
Gender discriminatory (ie sexist)conditions remain in the criteria however, in defiance of the Equality Act 2010. Men who have been resident in the city for seven years, or who were born here, or who have served a 7-year apprenticeship under a Freeman are eligible. Women who satisfy the same conditions are still not.
The council say that these criteria can only be changed if 3 Freemen from the Roll propose it and a ballot of the Roll members passes it. However one Freeman anonymously commented on our blog that he knew nothing about this.
Ms Simpson asked the City Council to promise that the Freemen would be informed of their rights in this regard and that any requested ballot would come in time for the 2012 intake.
Sarah Taylor, Lancaster City Council's Head of Governance replied on 1 June:
"It is my intention to ensure that staff resources within Democratic Services are provided during the next 6-9 months to support the arrangements for a ballot. This is of course subject to resource availability and other demands on the Service. If the result of such a ballot is that a qualifying resolution is passed, then, in accordance with Schedule 28A of the Local Government Act 1972, an order of the Secretary of State will be required to amend the County of Lancashire Act 1984, in order to implement the resolution. Clearly, the timing of such an order is outside the Council's control, but the Council will use its best endeavours to arrange the ballot with a view to implementation of any resolution in 2012."
Women have, infrequently, been admitted as Honorary Freewomen of the City. The title Honorary Freeman is the highest honour a council can bestow on an individual or a group of individuals 'who have in the opinion of the council, rendered eminent services to the Borough or City'. It requires a resolution to be passed, at a Special Council Meeting. Out of 28 recorded since the first recipient in 1887 there are just four women on the list: The Lady Ashton, CBE, Sister Aine Cox, MBE, SRN, SCM, MTD,
H.R.H. Princess Alexandra and Alderman Cecilia Mabel Pickard, MBE, CA, the former two now deceased.
An Honorary Freeman is not eligible for the rights and benefits reserved for actual Freemen.