As he considered his position last night, Boris Johnson may have been wishing he had read a crucial speech given by Lady Hale before the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament earlier this year.
In the speech, the first female President of the Court told her audience how important it is that judges, to remain true to their oaths of office, remain willing to stand up to governments.
‘Courts exist,’ said the fearsomely intelligent but softly spoken justice, ‘in order to ensure that the laws made by Parliament — and the common law created by the courts themselves — are applied and enforced.’
Lady Hale delivers the ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s advice to the Queen to suspend Parliament for five weeks was unlawful at the Supreme Court in London, today
She went on: ‘That role includes ensuring that the executive branch of government carries out its functions in accordance with the law. In order for the courts to perform that role, people must in principle have unimpeded access to them.’
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The executive has perhaps never before been brought to heel so humiliatingly by the courts.
Always immaculately turned out, Lady Hale has an undeniable star quality that has led some excitably to dub her ‘the Beyonce of the legal world’: Britain’s answer to the American Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
In a first for a top judge, she featured in a double-page spread in fashion bible Vogue marking a century since women were allowed to practise law. She has even appeared as a very different sort of judge on a special edition of MasterChef. (Her verdict: it’s difficult to cook fish for large numbers of people.)
On the court circuit she is famed for the oversized insect and animal brooches she wears while delivering her judgments. They have ranged from a frog to a butterfly.
Lady Hale wore a spider broach while delivering the verdict — perhaps in a nod to the web of complexities surrounding the case
In the speech, the first female President of the Court told her audience how important it is that judges, to remain true to their oaths of office, remain willing to stand up to governments
For yesterday’s sensational case — perhaps in a nod to the web of complexities surrounding it — she chose a spider.
Her main focus, however, has almost always been the law and, latterly, those who practise it. Lady Hale, now 74, has spent more than half a century working doggedly to break down barriers in the judiciary, which she regards as too white, male and public-school.
She once described the Court of Appeal — where she was then one of only two women — as ‘macho’ and said in 2015 that the Supreme Court should be ‘ashamed’ of its lack of diversity. For some years, she was its only female judge, though two more have joined her on the bench.
She became the Court’s third president in September 2017, earning £225,000 a year.
A view of press outside the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom hearing on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to prorogue parliament ahead of Brexit, in London, today
Given her outspoken belief in women’s rights, it was perhaps no surprise that when she became a Law Lord in 2004, she created a distinctly feminist coat of arms bearing the motto ‘Omnia Feminae Aequissimae’. Its meaning? ‘Women are equal to everything.’ Unusually, Hale is the inspiration for an illustrated children’s book by the writer and former barrister Afua Hirsch.
Equal To Everything: Judge Brenda And The Supreme Court tells the story of a girl brought up in the North Yorkshire countryside who goes on to become the most senior judge in the country.
The book also refers to the former family lawyer’s judgments and pioneering legal reforms.
It is all of a piece for a woman who transcended a humble background to rise to the top of the clubby worlds of the Bar and judiciary.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (right) meets Taoiseach Leo Varadakar at the 74th Session of the UN General Assembly, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, USA, today
She is married to Julian Farrand, a fellow law commissioner, who became the pensions and insurance ombudsman.
They had known each other for years before they wed, and Hale said Farrand ‘likes to say it took [us] 20 years to fall in love at first sight’.
Both went through amicable divorces which were finalised just days before they wed in 1992. She has a daughter Julia, and two grandchildren.
Brenda Hale was born in Leeds and spent her early life in the boarding house of a boys’ grammar school, where her parents worked as teachers. She was the only pupil in her primary school class to pass the 11-plus, and attended a girls’ grammar school in Richmond in the Yorkshire Dales. This makes her an untypical top judge: 65 per cent of the senior judiciary attended private school.
The ruling represents a major set back for Mr Johnson, pictured in New York today, who is now facing calls to resign. He said he believes the court made the wrong decision
At Girton College, Cambridge, she read law after her headteacher had told her she was not ‘clever enough’ to study history. One of only a handful of women then reading law at the university, she graduated with a rare starred first.
She may, indeed, be the archetypal ‘girly swot’ — Boris’s dismissive phrase for David Cameron. (The PM, of course, achieved only an upper-second in his degree.)
Despite these grades, she admitted in an interview two years ago that imposter syndrome first struck her as an undergraduate.
While teaching law at Manchester University — and working in a pub — she studied for the Bar exams, winning the top results for her year.
One of Hale’s more recent battles has been against private members’ club the Garrick, which counts a number of judges among its ranks and which has consistently voted against admitting women.
‘My objection . . . is to judges being members of a men-only club,’ she insists. ‘It is a club to which a lot of lawyers and judges belong. And so it means that you’ve automatically got access to gossip and knowledge . . . that people who can’t be there don’t have.’
In January she will reach 75: the automatic retirement age for judges. She will have been the most powerful judge in the country for barely two years.
But with yesterday’s dramatic ruling, Lady Hale has ensured that her term of office will mark the history books for ever.