The first female President of the UK Supreme Court, who was also the first woman and the youngest person to be appointed to the Law Commission, has received the award Honorary Doctor of Laws from Edge Hill University.
Brenda Hale, the Baroness Hale of Richmond, grew up in North Yorkshire, studied at a small grammar school in Richmond and was the first from there to go to Cambridge University and to read Law.
“In 1963 it was only one year since the first woman was appointed as a full-time judge in the ordinary courts, so the height of my ambition when I went to Cambridge was to become the first woman articled clerk in our local firm of solicitors in Richmond. I sometimes think a harder achievement than to become the first woman Law Lord,” joked Lady Hale.
Her career began as an academic at the University of Manchester as a junior lecturer. She qualified and practised as a barrister while continuing to teach, then devoted herself to academia, publishing on Family Law, Mental Health Law and Women and the Law.
In 1994 she was appointed a High Court Judge, the first to have made her career as an academic and public servant rather than a practising barrister. She went on to become the second woman ever to be appointed to the Court of Appeal and then the first and only female Law Lord, before the Law Lords were translated into Justices of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in 2009.
She was appointed as President of the Supreme court in 2017 and sometimes her actions were seen as controversial in the corridors of justice. On occasions she has been critical of judiciary which has been mainly male and overwhelmingly white, as well as largely the product of a limited range of educational institutions and social backgrounds.
Lady Hale has been described as a beacon and an icon with a ‘well-deserved rock star status’ in the legal world. She appeared on Masterchef as part of the 2018 celebrations of 100 years of suffrage, featuring in ‘The Vogue 25’ – an international list of 25 women shaping 2018 and earlier this year, a double page spread in the February edition of Vogue.
In her speech, she offered advice to Edge Hill’s most recent graduates. “We must be flexible and determined, we must be ready to grasp the exciting opportunities that come our way no matter how daunting they may seem, we must not be downhearted when things go wrong but try, try and try again.
“The great thing about a university education is that it gives us the tools to do this, it gives us the habits of curiosity, of thinking for ourselves of fair-minded evaluation of the evidence, of respect for the truth and of making ourselves work hard, at least when we need to do so.
“But it gives us much more than that. It gives us the opportunity of meeting interesting people from many different places, races and cultures the values of understanding, of tolerance for other people’s points of view, of respect for the diversity of humanity but I hope you’ve all had a lot of fun too. It might be your last opportunity, you never know!”, she said.
Beyond the nationally and internationally recognised events, Lady Hale can often be found visiting universities and other organisations, talking about her journey, offering an outstanding example to the next generation of children and young people thinking about their future and job prospects.
She added: “I am proud to be graduating along with all of you from such a new university but one with a long history which has such as a proud history of teaching excellence, of looking after its students, in its student accommodation and safety and this glorious campus on which you’ve been able to have the fun I was talking about after doing all the hard work . And even I can reconcile myself to having robes which echo the suffragette colours of purple, green and white, very appropriate indeed.”
Lady Hale’s extraordinary career chimes with the vision and history of Edge Hill University, where a belief in access and achievement for all are core to its values and mission.
Due to her open and frank dialogue around women, many doors have been opened to other women in her wake and through her actions and words she has changed the face of the legal profession – a legacy which will last forever.