To coincide with the launch of Equal to Everything: Judge Brenda and the Supreme Court, LAG asked its Twitter followers what they would ask Lady Hale given the opportunity. Here are her answers to some of those questions.
Photos: Geoff Young Photography
On the morning of its launch, Lady Hale read Equal to Everything to a group of children from St Matthew’s School & Nursery, Westminster
Why did you agree to do this book?
For three reasons: it was in the very good cause of raising money for the Legal Action Group, a charity which I have supported in various ways since its beginnings in the 1970s; it was an opportunity to raise awareness of the law and legal system among primary school children; and it would show them that a woman from an obscure background could make a successful career in the law.
What do you think can be achieved by publishing Equal to Everything?
I am especially pleased that the book is not all about me and my life story.
All of those things. I am especially pleased that the book is not all about me and my life story. It is about a little girl called Ama who also comes from Richmond in Yorkshire and visits the Supreme Court with her class to learn something about what we do. Although it has quite a serious message, it is also good fun and goes down very well with the children to whom I have read it. And the beautiful illustrations might even inspire people to visit Richmond, with its ancient castle and abbey, quaint old streets and market place and lovely countryside.
You are a role model to many – who inspired you when you were growing up and does anyone inspire you now?
My parents were my greatest inspiration when I was growing up. They were both teachers. My father was headmaster of a small independent boys’ boarding school and my mother was a primary school teacher. She had had to give up teaching when they married in the 1930s (it was the law then) but was able to take it up again and become head teacher of our local primary school after my father died suddenly in the 1950s. They both believed ardently in education, in their three daughters going to university and having careers if they wanted them, and in a family life which was full of conversation and fun.
I have been inspired by many great role models in the course of my career: Tony Weir, a Cambridge Law don, who fostered my love of the law and taught me what a good law teacher should be; Rose Heilbron and the other women barristers on the Northern Circuit, who gave the lie to the people who said that women couldn’t do it; Margaret Booth and Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, both great family law judges; and Tom Bingham, Master of the Rolls, Lord Chief Justice and Senior Law Lord, who taught me how to be a Law Lord and how to be a leader. But these are only a few.
Has there been a perceptible difference in the culture of the Supreme Court since there have been three female Justices?
The best thing about having more women on the court, apart from showing the world that we are more like them, is showing our colleagues that women are as different from one another as men are.
The best thing about having more women on the court, apart from showing the world that we are more like them, is showing our colleagues that women are as different from one another as men are. But it lightens the mood to be able to talk about clothes, family and food, as well as about books, plays, films, music and even sport.
How long until the vision of diversity within the judiciary in the book becomes reality?
My favourite picture in the book is the picture of class 3 as they now are and the picture of them all as Supreme Court Justices – diversity demonstrated in all its dimensions. There has been great progress over the last two decades, since the powers-that-be have begun to take it seriously. When I started judging, for example, the idea that a judge might be a wheelchair user was unthinkable. That has definitely changed. And the diversity statistics among the tribunals judiciary nearly mirror the diversity statistics among the working population of the same age, which is a huge achievement. But we still have quite a long way to go among the courts judiciary, especially in ethnic diversity, so I’m not going to make a prediction – except to say that at current rates of progress it should take less than the 50 years which have sometimes been predicted.
Do you find it difficult accepting the legal position of people you disagree with?
I try hard to achieve an accommodation between opposing views. But sometimes that is not possible and the best you can hope for is that a majority of the panel agrees with you.
I try hard to achieve an accommodation between opposing views. But sometimes that is not possible and the best you can hope for is that a majority of the panel agrees with you. If you are in a minority, you have to grin and bear it and hope that in due course the law may move on. In the meantime, you must loyally follow what the court has decided – another lesson I learned from Tom Bingham.
What one piece of advice would you give to an aspiring law student?
Be flexible and seize any interesting opportunities that come your way, however scary or unexpected they may be.
What are you most looking forward to post retirement?
Being able to say ‘no’ to things I really don’t want to do and to say ‘yes’ to things I really do want to do.
The launch of Equal to Everything
(L–r) Dr Laura Janes, Henny Beaumont, Lady Hale, Afua Hirsch, Esther Pilger and Carol Storer
The launch for the LAG children’s book, Equal to Everything: Judge Brenda and the Supreme Court
, took place in the Supreme Court on 10 October. The UCL Faculty of Laws sponsored the reception and many commented that it was rare to have such a joyful and inspirational event in the legal world.
Prints of Henny Beaumont’s beautiful illustrations were displayed both inside and outside courtroom no 2, mixing happily with the existing First 100 Years exhibition. This was a happy coincidence as the First 100 Years
project supported the launch.
At 6.30 pm, attendees went into court for a few speeches. Carol Storer, interim director of LAG, thanked all involved, with a special mention for publishing director Esther Pilger, and introduced the speakers. Dr Laura Janes, chair of LAG, said that when she and her daughter chatted about a book, along the lines of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg children’s book, they could not have foreseen that Lady Hale would be at the forefront of people’s minds when it was published almost two years later. A comment was made to Laura that LAG did well to get a book out so quickly in the circumstances.
Laura highlighted the need for people to know what the law does and how it is an essential part of our functioning democracy, not just something that affects criminals and is administered by people in strange costumes. The book, she said, ‘presents a vision of the judges of tomorrow as a truly diverse judiciary that I hope will be a reality when our children are grown up, if not before’.
The book’s author, Afua Hirsch, spoke in glowing terms of how she knew Laura from several years ago when they both worked at Doughty Street Chambers, and therefore had been enthusiastic to work on this project, particularly as Lady Hale is such a role model.
Henny Beaumont stood in front of one of her illustrations as she spoke. She, too, was delighted to be involved. Indeed, everyone had loved working with Lady Hale, who had been involved at each stage of the publishing process.
Lady Hale said she had been embarrassed when asked if she would give the project her blessing and that she remained so, but that after reading the book to a class of schoolchildren that morning and being asked lots of questions, felt that it had achieved its aim of getting children interested in the justice system.
LAG would like to thank those who submitted questions and, of course, Lady Hale for her support throughout the project and her thoughtful responses to the questions.