Since 2012 Lord Neuberger has served as the President of the UK Supreme Court, until Friday when his successor was named. On assuming office on the 2nd October Baroness Hale will become the 3rd President of the Supreme Court and the 1st woman to hold the position since the court’s inception in 2009. The appointment was warmly received by the outgoing President, Lord Neuberger, who dubbed it a ‘fitting pinnacle’ and by the legal profession, with the London Solicitors Litigation Association calling it a ‘welcome move’ and the Bar Council suggesting that ‘her appointment (Baroness Hale) will serve as an encouragement to all in showing how important this is’ in ‘arguing for a properly diverse judiciary’.
Recent high profile court cases concerning the triggering of Article 50 and of Charlie Gard has increased public awareness and scrutiny of the Supreme Court, and with the appointment of a new president is it incumbent to know the merits of the individual tasked with presiding over the highest court in the land for the next 3 years, Baroness Hale herself commented that whilst it is a ‘great honour’ it will also be a ‘challenge’. So, who is Baroness Brenda Hale of Richmond? What makes her qualified? What are her views and opinions and most importantly what will she bring to the bench as president?
The appointment of President of the Supreme Court is made by the Monarch on the advice of the Prime, the Lord Chancellor and in consultation with the UK’s three jurisdictions; England and Wales, which form one entity, Scotland and Northern Ireland under the formation of an independent selection commission, introduced by the 2005 Constitutional Reform Act. In her capacity as president of the highest court in the land Baroness Hale will have the responsibility of making final decisions on the listing of cases and the composition of panels to hear those cases, chaired by either herself or her deputy; a hugely influential role but one exercised with impartiality. The president also acts as a representative of the court in discussions with parliament and/or government over policy issues.
So, who is Baroness Brenda Hale? The 72 year old grew up in Yorkshire, attending a state grammar school in Richmond; she later attended Cambridge University studying Law, graduating with a First and top of her class. She then went into teaching law at Manchester University as an assistant lecturer whilst working part-time as a barrister. Brenda Hale would go onto spend 18 years in academia where she wrote pioneering books on mental health and family law, one of which I read in college; ‘The Family, Law and Society: Cases and Materials’.
One of the reasons I believe Baroness Hale to be qualified in serving as president of the court is that she is a woman, yes, an outlandish statement to make but one of reason. Lord Neuberger himself stated ‘what we are looking for is to recruit on the basis that the court becomes more diverse’; a sentiment echoed by Robert Bourn of the Law Society, ‘it must be right that when society looks at the most senior members of the judiciary it sees that it reflects the society’ and by Sam Mercer of the Bar Council, ‘The judiciary has got to reflect the people it’s working for. To have any legitimacy we need to have more women, particularly at the senior ranks’. In addition, a damning government report on judicial diversity published the day before it was announced Hale would succeed Neuberger revealed ‘28% of court judges, 45% of tribunal judges and 23% of appeal judges are women and that one in five judges at a high court level are women’.
Baroness Hale has also weighted-in on the courts lack of diversity, stating that the inbuilt bias in appointing judges has produced a judiciary that is ‘not only mainly male, overwhelmingly white, but also largely the product of a limited range of educational institutions and social backgrounds’.
With the clear intent of promoting the court as diverse, Baroness Hale is a maverick and the best ambassador for change through diversity the court has at its disposal. She was the first and young woman to be appointed to the Law Commission; in 1989 she was appointed Queens Counsel; in 1994 she became a high court judge, the first to do so with an academic background; in 1999 she became the second woman to be appointed to the Court of Appeals; she was the first Law-Lord and in 2013 she was appointed deputy president of the Supreme Court.
In a report published by the Supreme Court, entitled ‘Vacancy for President of The Supreme Court of The United Kingdom’, it specifies that one such quality a candidate must have is ‘social awareness and understanding of the contemporary world’, a quality that Baroness Hale has consistently demonstrated; which leads me to my next question…
What are her views and opinions? Baroness Hale, a family law expert, has been an unequivocal advocate of LGBT rights long before it became fashionable to do so. In 2005, whilst serving as a Law-Lord she stated that the Civil Partnership Act gave same-sex couples ‘a status which is marriage in almost all but name’, adding ‘if people want both the privileges and the responsibilities of marriage, I do not see why we should deny it to them’. Most recently she was on the panel who ruled in favour of granting John Walker, a gay ex-cavalry officer, the same pension rights for his husband as a heterosexual couple. On Brexit she voted in favour of parliament having the final say in triggering Article 50, though prior to the vote she cited that parliament could be forced to repeal and replace all current EU legislation to protect the rights of British people, ‘the argument is that the 1972 European Communities Act grants rights to individuals and others which will automatically be lost if the Treaties cease to apply’. She has also spoke favourably about assisted suicide but believes it is parliament not the courts to deliberate on such a matter. She once stated that ‘it is not for society to tell people what to value about their lives; we have to accept that individuals have different views about what makes their lives worth living’.
What will she bring to the bench as president? Her progressive views are what will make her an effective arbiter for 21st Britain, through Brexit and beyond. She has a wealth of experience and knowledge of upholding the law whilst applying a sense of social awareness and compassion. She bears the responsibility of being the woman who shattered the glass ceiling of the judicial world; for the first time ever we have a female head of state, a female head of government and now a female head of the Supreme Court. As a Yorkshire-lass she has promised to broaden the courts presence by ‘developing closer links with each part of the United Kingdom, for example by sitting outside London’. To conclude, she will bring inclusivity to the courts.