Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Plaudits were showered on Baroness Hale of Richmond over the weekend after she became the first woman to reach the top of the British judicial ladder.
Lady Hale – who attended a state grammar school and spent much of her early career as a legal academic – will succeed Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury as president of the Supreme Court on October 2. Her elevation coincided with the appointment of the second ever woman to the Supreme Court; Lady Justice Black, who moves up from the Court of Appeal, was one of three appointees. The two other new justices are also currently on the Court of Appeal bench: Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Lord Justice Briggs.
Lady Hale’s appointment was reported first in The Times. In the wake of the announcement, she said: “While I of course look forward to working alongside all my colleagues, it is a particular pleasure for me to be taking up the post at the same time as we welcome only the second ever woman to sit on the UK’s top appeal court.”
Lady Hale went on to say that she looked forward to building on the “pioneering” achievements of her predecessor, “including developing closer links with each part of the United Kingdom, for example by sitting outside London, and improving the ways in which we communicate our work to the public. 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”.
Andrew Langdon, QC, chairman of the Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, welcomed Lady Hale’s appointment. “It is well known that Baroness Hale is a most distinguished jurist and has long been at the forefront in the task of arguing for a properly diverse judiciary,” he said. “Her appointment will serve as an encouragement to all in showing how important this is.”
The leader of the largest legal profession in the UK, Joe Egan, president of the Law Society of England and Wales, pointed out that there “are still far fewer women than men in the judiciary but, thanks in large part to role models like Lady Hale, the number is growing steadily”. Egan continued that the country needed “judges who have demonstrated legal excellence throughout their careers, just as we also, crucially, need judges from diverse backgrounds to oversee some of the most important and significant cases that shape our laws”.
Ed Crosse, the president of the London Solicitors Litigation Association and a partner at City of London law firm Simmons & Simmons, also welcomed Lady Hale’s appointment, and used the opportunity to point out that “there remains, however, a very serious recruitment crisis and lack of judicial diversity affecting both our civil and criminal courts, which appears to be worsening, with a shortfall in suitable candidates for two years in a row now”.
Black leads list of three new ‘Supremes’
Lady Justice Black has been head of international family justice for England and Wales since 2013.
Raised in North Wales, she studied at Durham University before being called to the Bar and becoming the first lawyer in her family. Her legal career comprised both criminal and civil work, although she later specialised in family law. Dame Jill, 63, taught at Leeds Polytechnic during the 1980s and was appointed to the High Court’s family division in 1999. She was chairwoman of the Judicial Studies Board’s family committee for four years and she was a judicial appointments commissioner for five.
Lord Justice Lloyd Jones, 65, was born and brought up in Pontypridd, South Wales, where his father was a schoolteacher. The Welsh speaker, who was tipped as one of the contenders to be lord chief justice, attended Pontypridd Boys’ Grammar School and Downing College, Cambridge, where he was a fellow from 1975 to 1991.
At the Bar, Sir David’s practice included international law, EU law and public law. He was a so-called “friend of the court” offering legal advice in the hearings into whether former Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet had sovereign immunity from arrest and potential extradition to Spain over alleged human rights crimes during his rule between 1973 and 1990 rule. Sir David was appointed to the High Court in 2005, and was chairman of the Law Commission from 2012 to 2015.
Lord Justice Briggs, at 62, is the youngest of the three new justices. The keen sailor grew up in Plymouth and Portsmouth following his naval officer father between ships, before spending the rest of his childhood in West Sussex. He attended Charterhouse and Magdalen College, Oxford, and later embarked on a career in both commercial and chancery work.
Sir Michael was appointed to the High Court in 2006 and was the judge in charge of the extensive Lehman Brothers investment bank insolvency litigation from 2009 to 2013. He became a Court of Appeal judge in 2013. He is currently leading the implementation of reform of the civil courts including the creation of a new online court.
‘Urgent action’ needed over lack of ethnic minority judges
Bar leaders called for “urgent action” after figures showed that measures to improve judicial diversity were making slow progress.
“The progress made in recruiting more female judges is to be welcomed,” said Robin Allen, QC, the chairman of the Bar Council's equality and diversity committee, “but there is an urgent need to increase the number of part-time salaried posts which offer a useful combination of certainty and flexibility for the large number of lawyers with caring responsibilities.”
Allen was speaking the day after official judicial diversity statistics showed an almost non-existent increase in the number of ethnic minority numbers on the bench. “The lack of progress in recruiting any black British judges to the High Court and more senior courts, and only a very tiny percentage in the Crown Court, is unrepresentative of diverse modern Britain,” Allen said. “If this is not put right soon it will undermine the trust in the principle of equality before and under the law.”