History is expected to be made today when Downing Street announces the first female president of the Supreme Court.
In a ground-breaking move Baroness Hale of Richmond, 72, is the favourite to be confirmed as the next head of the UK’s highest court. Three other Supreme Court posts are expected to be announced at the same time, at least one of which will be a woman, bringing the total women among the 12 Supreme Court justices to two for the first time.
Lady Hale, a family law expert, is a long-standing champion of diversity in the judiciary, which she has criticised for self-selecting from a pool of predominantly white men from similar backgrounds. A self-confessed feminist, she has deplored that she sticks out “like a sore thumb” as the only woman in the UK’s highest court and has attacked the cosy world of the Garrick Club, which is much favoured by judges and does not admit women.
“I regard it as quite shocking,” she said in 2012, “that so many colleagues belong.” Later she said she did not think it appropriate for judges to be members of a male-exclusive club.
Lady Hale has already chalked up several legal firsts. She was the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court, where she is deputy president and the first family judge to do so. Before that, she was the first female law lord, when the House of Lords appellate committee was the highest court in the land.
However, her legal career prior to joining the bench was not conventional. She was a law professor at Manchester University for many years and did not become a High Court judge until 1994. Before that she spent ten years as a Law Commissioner, reshaping family law.
Her landmark appointment to the £225,091 a year post will be widely applauded across the judiciary, which has long come under criticism for its paucity of women at the top as well as other ethnic minority judges. Others tipped for the Supreme Court bench yesterday included Lord Justice Lloyd Jones, Lord Justice Briggs and Lady Justice Black.
Progress of diversity on the bench is still slow
Figures on judicial diversity published yesterday show improvement but a report says that progress “is not as fast as we would wish”.
The figures show that in the three years to April 2017, the percentage of female judges has risen from 18 to 24 in the Court of Appeal, 18 to 22 in the High Court and 24 to 28 in the judiciary. The percentage of ethnic minority judges has risen from 6 to 7.
The figures also show that at the level of tribunals, the proportion of women judges has risen from 43 per cent to 45 per cent and the percentage of ethnic minority judges from 9 to 10.
However, senior judges note in the report that it is “disappointing” that the percentage of non-barristers – which mostly refers to solicitors – has fallen from 37 to 34.