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Baroness eager to break the mould at Supreme Court - June-16-12
Source: The Times - Law
Baroness Hale of Richmond is in the running to be the first woman to head the highest court in Britain.
Lady Hale, 67, the only woman among the justices of the Supreme Court, is one of three candidates who have applied for the post of president that becomes vacant this autumn. No woman has ever held the top position in the Supreme Court or its predecessor, the House of Lords’ appellate committee.
Outspoken and a feminist, Lady Hale has strong views about equal rights and the need for more women at the top of the legal profession. She is regarded as something of a trailblazer after spending 18 years as an academic and Law Commissioner, working on law reform before becoming a High Court judge in 1994.
The others in the running are Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, 64, now Master of the Rolls and head of the civil justice system, and Lord Mance, 69, another Supreme Court judge.
Lord Neuberger has been tipped as the front-runner, but there is some support for Lord Mance because Lord Neuberger is relatively young and has been in his present post only since 2009. Some say that he has time to oversee and consolidate reforms to civil justice and still be eligible to succeed Lord Mance in a few years’ time.
Judges must now respond to job advertisements, even for the most senior positions, and be interviewed.
The interview panel is made up of Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, the president of the Supreme Court who retires on September 30; Lord Hope of Craighead, his deputy; and representatives of the judicial appointments commissions of England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
While Lady Hale might win the lay votes, it is less certain that she would command the support of her Supreme Court colleagues, of whom she has been openly critical in judgments. She also recently criticised the all-male world of the Garrick Club, the favoured retreat for judges, writers and actors for nearly 180 years, saying: “I regard it as quite shocking that so many of my colleagues belong to the Garrick Club.”
The judge blamed the culture fostered through club networking as one reason why so few women had reached the senior judicial ranks. In the US Supreme Court, three of nine justices are women; in Canada, the figure is four of nine (and the Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, is a woman); and in Israel the tally is seven of fourteen. With more women on the Supreme Court, “I would not be the sore thumb that sticks out”, Lady Hale said.
The recent advert for the next president of the Supreme Court said that the selection committee was “anxious to attract applications from the widest field, including candidates who are not already Justices of the Supreme Court”. The Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, can veto a recommended candidate.
This month, Baroness Neuberger, the Liberal Democrat peer and rabbi, and the sister-in-law of Lord Neuberger, attacked the proposed changes to judicial selection in the Crime and Courts Bill, which would allow the Lord Chancellor to sit on the appointment commission for president of the Supreme Court as well as that of the Lord Chief Justice. The proposal, she said, was a “disgrace” and raised constitutional issues. It also runs counter to recommendations last year of the Lords Constitution Committee report on judicial appointments which said that the Lord Chancellor should not have a role in the appointments.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “The Government is committed to upholding the independence of the judiciary and the selection decision will be based solely on merit.”
The final three
Baroness Hale of Richmond has an academic and law reform background. In 2004 she became the first woman to reach the highest court, when it was the House of Lords. Before that she had broken new ground by coming from academia to be a High Court judge in 1994.
Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury is held as one of brightest of the senior judiciary and one of most liberal. He has already sat in the highest court, having been appointed to the House of Lords in 2007 at only 58 — then the youngest law lord. Two years later was Master of the Rolls.
Lord Mance is a commercial lawyer by background. He has been a judge in the highest court since 2005, when it was the House of Lords. He is married to one of the few women judges in the Court of Appeal, Dame Mary Arden. As a High Court judge he handled the big Commercial Court litigation over the Kuwait Investment Office’s investment in Grupo Torras. He has also represented the UK on the Council of Europe’s Consultative Council of European Judges.
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