Editorial: In tumultuous times, Lady Hale has been a beacon of kind, calm intelligence
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Marc Bloomfield
Lady Hale, the president of the Supreme Court, has just presided over the most important constitutional law case in living memory. We have seen her courteously, kindly and intelligently talk about what the case is and is not about; we have seen her deal with problems that were caused by the rushed nature of the proceedings (#bundlegate); and we have seen the most important judge in the country absorb the complex arguments put before her. For over a week, we saw unprecedented interest from the mainstream media in our world. Questions about the rule of law, the Supreme Court and Lady Hale seeped into front rooms, pubs and everyday conversation. All 11 judges found that the case was justiciable and prorogation was unlawful, and therefore void, ie, parliament was not prorogued.
We have all been able to watch the proceedings because the three-day hearing was streamed online. The number of people viewing was extraordinary. Transparency in the courts through filming and enabling people to view the proceedings online has been an enormously successful innovation. The Supreme Court was the first in the country to have all its proceedings available online. Other courts are still grappling with finding the right balance between opening up the courts and the right to privacy. The accessibility of the Supreme Court meant that the Miller and others case1R (Miller) v Prime Minister; Cherry and others v Advocate General for Scotland [2019] UKSC 41. could be followed by anyone who was interested. It was a chance to see law in action.
As more people act in person and as more interactions with the court are online, it will be even more important that they understand not only the law but also procedures. The Briggs Report2Civil courts structure review: final report, Judiciary of England and Wales, July 2016. was admirably clear on the problems that would arise with digitisation as well as suggesting remedies. As a former housing lawyer, I know how important it is to read the cases that feature regularly in Legal Action to see if there are any that can be used to support an argument. Or, indeed, to deter an argument from being run.
These are tumultuous times. The political landscape has moved from a stable two-party democracy to an unheralded situation where both of the main parties are divided on one issue and former minority parties may play a huge role both in the next election and beyond.
There are concerns about populism and the country has never been so divided. The years of austerity have led to those in poverty – particularly disabled people – suffering inordinately and there is a sense of despair about what has been unleashed. From many lawyers’ perspectives, it appears that recent governments have been content to fuel populism, denigrate lawyers and the rule of law, and ride roughshod over the benefits system that had been an important safety net for so many for so long.
In the middle of all this tumult, where does this leave the relationship between government, parliament and the rule of law? The way in which the Miller case was conducted in the Supreme Court – calm and collected arguments about important legal issues – provided a stark contrast to the chaos we saw in parliament in the weeks preceding it.
Some sections of the press argued (and will continue to argue) that the Supreme Court is dabbling in politics, but, of course, the extent to which the courts can consider the legality of executive action was one of the key issues in the case. Understanding the interplay between the courts, parliament and the executive is no simple matter, but, as recent events have shown, it is vitally important. It was partly the need to make the idea of law and how it works accessible to children that drove LAG to create a children’s book about Lady Hale and the Supreme Court.
We did not realise that Lady Hale would be trending on Twitter and that the book would come out at such a historic moment. It came about because the daughter of LAG’s chair, Dr Laura Janes, asked her mother, when reading the children’s picture book about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the American Supreme Court judge), why we in the UK didn’t have an amazing judge like that. Laura told her that we did have one, called Brenda Hale. She followed up on her daughter’s comments and LAG commissioned our first ever picture book for children, Equal to Everything: Judge Brenda and the Supreme Court, written by Afua Hirsch and illustrated by Henny Beaumont.
We at LAG are proud to have produced a children’s book about Lady Hale that we believe captures the importance of the Supreme Court’s work and the difficulty of making decisions in the cases that come before it. We suspect that no decision will be as difficult as the one heard in September 2019. Many adults have been impressed by the arguments seen on the live stream. Opening up the world of law and justice so that it feels like everybody’s business is core to LAG’s aims as an access to justice charity. Recent events have shown that as a society our courts and legal system have been unnecessarily unknown and misunderstood by too many for too long. That must change and inspiring children is a good place to start: our goal is to enthuse children about justice and encourage them to aim high in the future.
 
1     R (Miller) v Prime Minister; Cherry and others v Advocate General for Scotland [2019] UKSC 41»
2     Civil courts structure review: final report, Judiciary of England and Wales, July 2016. »

About the author(s)

Description: Carol Storer - author
Carol Storer is interim director of LAG. She was director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group for 10 years until November 2018.