Opinion

“Lady Hale is the latest judge to prove that men need to stop playing by their own rules”

This week, Lady Hale made history when she carried on the work of Gina Miller to deliver the Supreme Court’s verdict that Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament was unlawful. But she’s not the only woman working hard to put men in their place…

There’s no doubt about it: Lady Hale is a pioneer.

Throughout her judiciary career she has been the triumphant first for many things. The first woman to be appointed to the law commission in 1984. The first to become a high court judge in 1994 having made her career as an academic and public servant, rather than a practicing barrister. The first woman justice of the supreme court in October 2009, before finally becoming the president of the supreme court in 2017. Oh and yes, she was the first woman to occupy that position too. 

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This week, Lady Hale made history yet again when she delivered the supreme court’s unanimous verdict that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament was unlawful.

“The court is bound to conclude, therefore, that the decision to advise her majesty to prorogue parliament was unlawful because it had the effect of frustrating or preventing the ability of parliament to carry out its constitutional functions without reasonable justification,” she said. 

The court’s verdict came after it was revealed that Johnson planned to suspend parliament two weeks before asking the queen.

The court also criticised the length of the suspension, with Lady Hale saying it was “impossible for us to conclude, on the evidence which has been put before us, that there was any reason – let alone a good reason – to advise her majesty to prorogue parliament for five weeks”.

The reason is simple: Johnson wants it his way. The man is abusing his position of authority to push Brexit through without any delay. Why else would he choose to prorogue parliament until the middle of October, two weeks before B-Day, aka Brexit, 31 October? 

In this case, politicians would have far less time to try to stop or stall Britain’s likely exit from the EU. The only evidence of why Johnson decided to suspend parliament was because of a memorandum from Nikki da Costa, now ex-director of legislative affairs at No 10, where he ticked ‘yes’ next to the recommendation. Imagine – constitutional chaos resulting from a check mark. That, plus one man’s determination to get the UK out of the EU at any cost, even going so far as to mislead his queen.

Johnson’s role as prime minister has left a lot to be desired, but this ruling took it to another level. Reacting to the ruling, Johnson said it was an “unusual judgment”, adding: “The prerogative of prorogation has been used for centuries without this kind of challenge.

“There are a lot of people who basically want to stop this country from coming out of the EU and we have a parliament that is unable to be prorogued and doesn’t want to have an election. I think it is time we took things forward,” he added. Yes, but in a legal and democratic manner, I should think. 

Watching Lady Hale deliver such a historic verdict, especially one concerning a man who is apparently playing by his own rules and threatening democracy in the process, was the definition of empowering. Particularly as she was sitting in a chair that, until two years ago, had always been reserved for a man.

Lady Hale has criticised the inbuilt bias in choosing judges in the past, resulting in 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”. Her presence in the judiciary, along with Lady Black and Lady Arden, shows that the court is slowly improving its record on the issue. However, while half of young judges are women, there is still a long way to go, with only 8% of judges identifying as BAME.

Lady Hale’s work and her journey to get to where she is brought to mind other female judges who have recently been in the limelight for their work that have wielded considerable influence, including Sandra Day O’Connor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Rosemarie Aquilina

Indeed, who can forget that moment early last year, when Aquilina sentenced Larry Nassar to 175 years in prison? The day of reckoning had finally come for the former doctor who abused more than 150 women. It was a landmark moment for victims of sexual assault everywhere. O’Connor, like Lady Hale, was the first woman to be elected to the supreme court, albeit Stateside. This was a milestone moment for O’Connor, who, as a young law graduate, had such difficulty finding employment because of her gender that she offered to work for no salary and without an office, sharing space with a secretary. 

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Ginsburg encountered similar difficulties, being informed at her first professorial job that she would be paid less than her male colleagues because her husband had a well-paid job. Ginsburg became the second female justice after O’Connor and her significance in US politics was portrayed in the 2018 documentary RBG. Both O’Connor and Ginsburg are renowned for their staunch defense of US abortion rights.

While Lady Hale is set to retire at the end of this year, she has certainly ensured her mark. Fun fact: when she was appointed a law lord in 2004, she had to devise a coat of arms for her new title, Baroness Hale of Richmond.

Quite fittingly her motto, in Latin, translates as “women are equal to everything”. 

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