Parity between the sexes in the procurator-fiscal's office has almost been achieved under the reign of Scotland's first female Lord Advocate, Elish Angiolini.

Ms Angiolini has further added to the legion of female legal professionals serving as area or district procurators- fiscal with the announcement yesterday that Emma Knox, 40, has been appointed to lead the work of The Crown in Inverness.

The Crown Office stressed that Ms Knox had been hired, like all of her colleagues, strictly on merit and not on any grounds of positive discrimination, but the appointment is the latest in a long line of recent high-profile female postings.

Across Scotland, there are now 21 women in senior fiscal roles, compared to 22 men working as either an area or district prosecutor.

However, work continues to establish why the higher echelons of the judiciary remain dominated by men. Of 34 judges in Scotland, just five are female.

The Judicial Appointments Board of Scotland is due to publish results of its diversity review this summer in a bid to pinpoint why such a big disparity exists.

Ms Knox, who was raised in Elgin, graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1992 with a Law Degree and an MA (Hons) in English.

She said yesterday that she was "delighted" with her new appointment and that her husband had given up his job as a software engineer to look after the couple's two young children while she undertakes her new role.

"I am delighted to have this opportunity to return to this beautiful part of Scotland and to serve the communities where I grew up.

"Inverness has a dedicated and professional team with an excellent reputation, and together with local enforcement agencies we will be addressing issues with known persistent offenders, tackling underage drinking and providing a robust response to breaches of bail and anti-social behaviour orders.

Ms Knox added: "Inverness is piloting fiscal work orders, a new direct measure where offenders can be required to undertake 10 to 50 hours unpaid work in the community. I hope to take full advantage of this to make offenders give something back to the community."

A Crown Office spokesman said yesterday that of 545 legal employees at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), 348 (63%) of them were female.

"Although women have formed the majority of new legal recruits for some time, all appointments are made solely on the suitability of the candidate, their abilities and skills and are made on the basis of fair and open competition," a spokesperson said.

"COPFS is committed to promoting equality of opportunity and treatment and to ensuring that there is no unfair discrimination in employment practices. We do our utmost to ensure that all job applicants and employees are treated fairly, with respect and without bias at all times."

Figures from the Law Society show that some 401 women qualified as solicitors in 2007-08, almost double the male quota of 210.

In addition, Stuart Robertson, of Ede and Ravenscroft in Edinburgh - which makes bar wigs for the legal profession - said: "I would say there has been an increase in females coming to us for bar wigs."

Margaret Mitchell MSP (Conservative), convener of Holyrood's equal opportunities committee, said she had witnessed an "uplifting" approach to equal opportunities in Scottish courts during her time as a Justice of the Peace in Hamilton.

"Even years ago when I worked as a JP in the court system, it was clear then that there were a lot of female fiscals about, and they were all very talented and able people.

"I am delighted that they are having their ability recognised.

"I found the court service really quite uplifting. What is also encouraging is their approach to people who have other responsibilities in their lives, such as unpaid carers.

"They get the very best out of their staff and manage to retain them as well."

The Judicial Appointments Board of Scotland has slightly delayed the publication of its diversity survey results after the review apparently threw up some "complex issues" that required further analysis.

The first appointment of a female judge, Lady Cosgrove, only came in 1996.

Since then, she has been joined by Ladies Paton, Smith, Dorrian and Stacey.

A spokesman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Glasgow said yesterday: "We warmly welcome the appointment of Emma Knox, but we know that across Scotland the reality is that there is still a marked imbalance between genders in the workplace, and the legal profession is no exception."