07:36, July 21 96 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-21 07:36:03
'Women are equal to everything': Lady Hale lives up to her motto

Brenda Hale’s elevation to president of the supreme court represents a resounding victory in the long campaign for gender equality among the senior judiciary.

Her appointment is also the zenith of an extraordinary, successful legal career in which she has become one of the most forthright and liberalising influences on the court.

Taking office at the age of 72, Lady Hale is one of a diminishing number of judges selected before 1995 who are entitled to remain on the bench until they reach the age of 75; everyone appointed after that date must step down at 70.

As deputy president of the court for the past four years, she was firm favourite to succeed Lord Neuberger, who is three years her junior. Since being sworn in as a law lord in 2004, Hale – a self-declared feminist – has been the only woman on the UK’s highest court. It is a singularity she has regularly deplored.

Hale’s triumph could prove controversial. The Daily Mail has accused her of subverting family life and, ahead of the Brexit article 50 court hearing last year, of being pro-remain. In the aftermath of the row about the paper’s “Enemies of the People” headline, relations between the media and the senior judiciary have remained awkward.

She was born in Yorkshire in 1945, and her parents were both headteachers. The young Hale attended Richmond high school for girls, in North Yorkshire, followed by Girton College, Cambridge, where she excelled at law and emerged top of her class.

Her ascent of the judicial ladder did not follow the conventional practice route. She spent 18 years as an academic, teaching law at Manchester University, becoming a professor and qualifying as a barrister. In the 1980s she was appointed to the Law Commission, which revises outdated legislation, began sitting as a part-time judge and was made a QC.

In 1994, Hale was promoted to be a high court judge in the family division, an experience that provided a different perspective to that of many senior judges who traditionally come from commercial and chancery law.

Her rise was rapid: she went up to the court of appeal in 1999 and the law lords in 2004, transferring across to the supreme court when it was established in 2009. On appointment to the Lords, she created a coat of arms bearing the motto Omnia Feminae Aequissimae, meaning “women are equal to everything”.

Her private life has attracted comment. In Manchester, she married Anthony Hoggett, a fellow law lecturer with whom she had one daughter, who later became a City banker. The marriage was dissolved in 1992 when she married Julian Farrand, who was also a professor of law at Manchester and a colleague on the Law Commission.

Farrand, nine years her senior, went on to become the pensions and insurance ombudsman. He later wrote a farcical novel, Love at All Risks, featuring the confessions of an insurance ombudsman who has “a passionate adulterous affair” with his “stunning assistant”.

Hale’s Who’s Who entry includes a teasing, alliterative list of recreations: “domesticity, drama, duplicate bridge”. Her club is the Athenaeum, traditionally a haven for intellectuals and distinguished academics.

In 2011, she told a law diversity forum: “I regard it as quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick Club [which does not admit women], but they don’t see what all the fuss is about.” Judges, she said, “should be committed to the principle of equality for all”.

Hale’s speeches and writing reflect a consistently feminist and egalitarian approach. Her 1984 co-authored Women and the Law, the first comprehensive survey of women’s rights at work, in the family and in the state concluded: “Deep-rooted problems of inequality persist and the law continues to reflect the economic, social and political dominance of men.”

Hale is a prominent advocate of improving diversity on the bench. Of the 12 justices currently on the supreme court, she is the only woman. The proportions are marginally better in other senior courts: of the 42 judges who sit on the court of appeal, only eight are female; among high court judges, 21 out of 106 were women in April 2016.

Two years ago she announced that the UK’s supreme court should be “ashamed” if it did not radically improve its diversity in the next round of judicial appointments. Her speech at Birmingham University was read as a deliberate rebuke to remarks from her fellow supreme court justice Lord Sumption, who had claimed that any attempt to speed up the process of achieving gender equality in the senior judiciary could have “appalling consequences”.

All 13 judges appointed to the law lords and supreme court since 2004, she noted, were men, “all were white. All but two went to independent fee-paying schools. All but three went to boys’ boarding schools. All but two went to Oxford or Cambridge. All were successful QCs in private practice, although one was a solicitor rather than a barrister.” Most had specialised in commercial, property or planning law.

A feisty presence, Lady Hale invariably gives the impression of being up for a robust exchange of views. Her enthusiasm for educating has sometimes led her into political crossfire, for example, when she explained the permutations of legal possibilities ahead of the Brexit case.

Paying tribute when she was promoted to the law lords, the Labour peer Helena Kennedy QC said: “Brenda is an absolutely straightforward, completely honest and principled person. This idea of a man-hating feminist is wrong. She’s extraordinarily human, by no means anti-male and great fun. I’ve always found her a wonderful, companionable person.”

The question is whether her appointment will steer the court towards delivering a different type of justice. In a 2013 speech, Hale remarked: “I too used to be sceptical about the argument that women judges were bound to make a difference, but I have come to agree with those great women judges who think that sometimes, on occasions, we may do so.”