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Lady Hale: Meet the first female supreme court president who just stopped Boris Johnson in his tracks

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Lauren Geall
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Lady Hale

The first female head of the supreme court, Lady Hale, ruled Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament unlawful yesterday (24 September), after a successful campaign by activist Gina Miller. Here’s everything you need to know about the “Beyoncé of the legal profession.” 

We already knew that Lady Hale was a total feminist icon – but now she’s taken her legendary status one step further.

Besides the fact that she’s literally the first ever female president of the UK supreme court, she’s also used her position to raise awareness of the gender imbalance in the legal profession, and has repeatedly argued for at least half of the UK’s judiciary to be female. On top of all that, on appointment to the UK’s highest court in 2004, she created her own feminist coat of arms bearing the motto “Omnia Feminae Aequissimae,” which means “women are equal to everything”.

And today, she’s only gone and done it again. In a landmark decision delivered yesterday (24 September), the UK’s supreme court ruled that Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament was unlawful – and it was Lady Hale who read out the damning verdict.

The prorogation, which had previously been ruled unlawful by a court in Scotland, was challenged by businesswoman and campaigner Gina Miller. Even before Boris Johnson announced in August 2019 that he was going to suspend parliament, Miller declared she was prepared to go back to court to “defend parliamentary sovereignty” (she had previously launched another case on the matter of whether the government could invoke Article 50 without approval from parliament – she won).

Gina Miller speaking outside the supreme court yesterday
Gina Miller speaking after Lady Hale’s live reading of the supreme court’s verdict.

The high court had previously rejected Miller’s claims after lawyers for Boris Johnson claimed that the power to suspend parliament was a political, rather than legal, matter.

However, Miller didn’t give up, and she decided to appeal to the supreme court, a decision which ended with Lady Hale’s live reading of the court’s decision. 

“Parliament, and in particular the House of Commons as the elected representatives of the people, has a right to a voice in how [Brexit] comes about,” Hale declared to the court yesterday (24 September). “The effect upon the fundamentals of our democracy was extreme.”

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She continued: “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.”

Of course, not everyone was pleased to see a powerful woman – from a state school educated background no less – take control over Boris Johnson. 

In a questionable headline from the Daily Mail, Lady Hale was described as an “ex-barmaid with a spider brooch” who “snared” Boris Johnson, as if having been a barmaid is anything to be ashamed of? But don’t worry, because we’ve got the receipts to prove Lady Hale’s 101 other achievements, on top of (probably) being a fantastic barmaid. 

As the world reacts to the words of this incredibly powerful woman, here’s everything you need to know about her journey to the top. 

Who is Lady Hale?

Put quite simply, Lady Hale is a glass ceiling smasher. After attending a state school in Yorkshire she made her way to Girton College, Cambridge (where she graduated top of her class with a starred first, by the way). While working as a junior lecturer in the University of Manchester’s law faculty and simultaneously working in a pub, she also studied for the bar exams. She achieved the top results for her year in the bar finals in 1969.

While she worked part-time as a barrister for the next 18 years, she mainly dedicated herself to academia. That was until she became the first woman and youngest person to be appointed to the Law Commission in 1984. 

Lady Hale
Lady Hale with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall earlier this year, wearing another iconic brooch.

How did Lady Hale become president of the supreme court?

In 1989, Lady Hale was appointed Queen’s Counsel – an honorific term usually given to people in the legal profession on the basis of merit rather than a particular level of experience – and a part-time judge. In 1994 she came a high court judge, and in 1999 she became only the second woman to become a court of appeal judge.

It was then that her status really began to climb. In 2004 she was appointed the first female Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and therefore got to take up a place in the House of Lords. It was also then that she created her own coat of arms.

Having been appointed deputy president of the supreme court in 2013, Lady Hale rose to the position of supreme court president in September 2017, the first female ever to do so. 

What is Lady Hale known for?

As we’ve already established, Lady Hale is known for being a bit of a legend. She’s pioneered some groundbreaking legislation, championed diversity in the legal profession and repeatedly demonstrated her dedication to the feminist fight.

“The law, the legal profession and the courts are there to serve the whole population, not just a small section of it,” she previously told The Guardian Students. “They should be as reflective of that population as it is possible to be.”

To give you a sense of her position within the legal profession, in 2017 she was referred to as the “Beyoncé of the legal profession” by a group of University of Cambridge students – a label she has acknowledged and says she “doesn’t mind”. 

And, perhaps most importantly, she rocks the best selection of brooches this country has ever seen. 

From caterpillars to spiders, butterflies to flowers, she’s got an accessory for every occasion: today’s choice? An ominous looking spider. A metaphor, perhaps?

What does the internet think of Lady Hale?

Lady Hale is currently (24 September) trending on Twitter in the UK, with most of the comments praising her for her feminism, ability to stop Boris Johnson and, of course, her brooches.

Thanks to the massive reaction towards her ruling online, you can now buy a Lady Hale Spider Brooch T-Shirt on eBay for £10, with 30% of the profits going to Shelter. 2190 have been sold at the time of writing. 

Aside from that, we’ve left some of the best reactions below for your enjoyment. 

“Inspirational women fighting for change this week,” MP Wera Hobhouse wrote, beneath an image with the title ‘Girl Power’. The graphic pictured Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson, the activist and campaigner Gina Miller, the woman herself Lady Hale, and the teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg.

“Lady Hale looks like the kind of sweet old lady who’d make you tea and offer you a biscuit and then sits down to tell you about all her assassination missions she did for the resistance during the war in occupied France,” one response read.

“Boys at Eton told ‘You can do anything’,” began another. “Lady Hale: Hold my beer.”

“Lady Hale right now,” wrote one user, above a picture of Phoebe Waller-Bridge after her Emmys win on Sunday.

“I am particularly loving Lady Hale’s ‘Black Widow - Queen of Justice’ vibe,” added Ingrid Oliver.

“Might start an Instagram account for Lady Hale’s brooches,” read another response.

“Our resident house spider now has a name,” one user added in reference to Lady Hale’s now iconic spider brooch. “We now address her as ‘M’Lady Hale’, and we are grateful for her protection and stout defence of our house.”

And an iconic one to finish: “Anyone else in love with the desk tidy and that hole-punch? Lady Hale bringing a strong ‘I live here. You are visiting’ look.”

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