Equality a priority for first woman Supreme Court Head Brenda Hale

Yorkshire-born Lady Hale will be officially sworn in as president on October 2.
Yorkshire-born Lady Hale will be officially sworn in as president on October 2.

by Amit Roy

The appointment of Baroness Hale of Richmond, 72, as the first woman president of the supreme court has raised hopes that she will be able to do even more to promote gender and ethnic diversity in the legal profession.

Among those who have expressed “delight” that Lady (Brenda) Hale is becoming president of the UK’s highest court are the historian Kusoom Vadgama and vice president of the Association of Women Barristers, Neelam Sarkaria.

“She has already been on a war path fighting against racial prejudices and gender inequality in society and has not hesitated to criticise male judges to be members of clubs that do not admit women,” Vadgama told Eastern Eye.

Vadgama, who is also co-chair of the IndoBritish Heritage Trust, which is marking 400 years of engagement between the two countries, added: “Furthermore, she has campaigned to have more black and minority members as judges.”

Sarkaria, who is also chair of the Association of Women Barristers and now works as an independent criminal justice consultant after 24 years with the Crown Prosecution Service, expressed similar sentiments.

“As a former president of the Association of Women Barristers, Baroness Hale’s appointment sends a clear message to women in the legal profession that they can achieve high judicial office and be successful in their chosen career,” commented Sarkaria.

She said: “Baroness Hale has campaigned for women to advance at the Bar and is an exemplary role model sitting on many high-profile hearings including the Brexit case.

She has campaigned for a more diverse judiciary.” She explained that “the Association of Women Barristers has played a key role in advancing the interests of women at the Bar since its inception 24 years ago”.

She pointed out: “Young women in the profession need role models to aspire to. It is here that the association can continue to play a key role by supporting prospective female pupils.”

Yorkshire-born Lady Hale will be officially sworn in as president on October 2 in succession to Lord Neuberger who commented: “For Lady Hale to become president of the institution to which she has contributed so much is a fitting pinnacle to a truly ground-breaking career.”

She became the first woman justice of the supreme court in October 2009, and was appointed deputy president in June 2013.

“Recent high-profile cases mean that more people than ever before have heard of the supreme court and we hope that this will help to create a broader understanding of how the judiciary serves society,” remarked Lady Hale.

She was one of those who ruled in favour of Gina Miller against the government over the Brexit appeal.

Most recently she was on the panel of justices that ruled in favour of John Walker, the gay former cavalry officer who won a landmark pensions ruling to secure his husband the same rights as a wife.

Vadgama, who ranks Lady Hale as the third most powerful woman in Britain after the Queen and prime minister Theresa May, recalled: “There are special and personal reasons for me to admire and congratulate Lady Hale. She very kindly gave a foreword for my book, An Indian Portia: Selected writings of Cornelia Sorabji (1866-1954), a measure of her respect for Cornelia and India.

“Cornelia had made legal history by becoming the first woman ever to practise law in India and in Britain.

“In the foreword, which traces the historic links with India and Britain, Lady Hale says, ‘….she (Cornelia) worked hard to improve the education and rights of less fortunate Indian women, to gain legal qualifications in India and to persuade the British of the need for someone to represent the interest of the purdah-nishin women.’ She concludes by saying, ‘There is much more to Cornelia’s remarkable life and work than the ‘first woman’ status.’

“In May 2012, Lady Hale obliged further by accepting an invitation to unveil Cornelia’s bust I donated to The Honourable Society of the Lincoln’s Inn where Cornelia was a pupil. A copy of the bust is in the supreme court. The event itself made history when the first ever woman to practise law, an Indian, was honoured by the first woman top British judge. An example of the IndoBritish relationship at its best.

“Together Lady Hale and Cornelia Sorabji have shown that with single-mindedness, hard work and the law on their side, discriminations of all kinds in society can be removed.”

Incidentally, India’s male-dominated supreme court had told Vadgama that “it is not interested” in receiving her free gift of Cornelia Sorabji’s bust.