Mike Amos: Judge not lest thou be judged, but the column’s still much impressed by Lady Hale
THERE may not have been a longer queue outside the old Zetland Cinema in Richmond since kids got into the Saturday morning matinee in exchange for a couple of jam jars.
Though the cinema seating still comfortably exists, these days it’s the Influence Church (which by all accounts packs them in, too.)
It’s for more secular reasons, however, that folk flock a few evenings back: they’re there to hear Lady Hale, President of the Supreme Court and said on one of the websites to have “a history of generally being pretty amazing”.
Tabloid translated as Britain’s top judge, she is formally Baroness Hale of Richmond, the North Yorkshire town in which she went to school and near which she and her husband still live in a late-Georgian mansion.
The Daily Mail supposes her a “hard-lime feminist”, the Guardian that she is a “totemic hate figure” for the Daily Mail. Helena Kennedy QC weighs more evenly: Lady Hale, she says, is “extraordinarily human, by no means anti-male and great fun".
Her heraldic coat of arms carries the Latin motto Omnia feminae aequissimae – women are equal to everything – among her watchwords that democracy treats everyone equally, even if the majority do not.
She’s keeping a promise to Richmond Civic Society, having flown overnight from Canada and then caught an afternoon train from Kings Cross.
“I think it’s the only time we’ve been more concerned about the lecturer falling asleep than the audience,” says Colin Grant, of the Civic Society.
It’s a bit like Madonna playing a neighbourhood concert, and in exchange for a packet of Hobnobs.
She is 73, slight, spright, informal – “Hello, I’m Brenda Hale” – and, of course, at home. “I haven’t been in this place since I was a great deal younger,” she tells them, and remembers affectionately the childhood pantomimes.
She was the middle of three sisters, their father headteacher of the fee-paying Scorton Grammar School, a few miles east of Richmond, when the RAF gave up its wartime requisition.
After he died when she was 13, her mother returned to teaching and became head of the nearby Bolton-on-Swale primary school, which Lady Hale had herself attended.
All three sisters became head girl of Richmond Girls’ High School – “I was very unsuccessful, my sisters were much better” – and among relatively few girls to enjoy a grammar school education.
Back then – “the olden days,” she says – girls had half the places allowed for boys (“that was pretty unfair, wasn’t it?”) and the North Riding as a whole many fewer places than other counties. “No one thought the country yokels needed education, and certainly not the girls,” she says.
She became the first girl from the school to win a law place at Cambridge – “the headteacher said I wasn’t clever enough to read history,” she says by way of further self-effacement – discovering just six women among more than 100 students in the law faculty and three women’s colleges, but 21 for men.
“That was grossly unfair to women, but we all had a wonderful time.”
Top of her intake, first class honours, she became a law lecturer in Manchester, qualified as a barrister, married, had a daughter, divorced and in 1992 married Julian Farrand, nine years her senior, who’d been her professor at Manchester and became a fellow member of the Law Commission.
“He likes to say it took 20 years to fall in love at first sight,” she once said.
In 1994 she became a High Court judge, specialising in family law, in 1999 an appeal court judge and, five years later, a Lord of Appeal in Ordinary and a life peer. Her husband, she says, remains “plain Dr Farrand.”
When the Supreme Court was formed in 2009, she was the only female member, becoming president last year.
“Male judges,” she told the Financial Times, “are very friendly, very welcoming, lovely people to work with.
“The only comment one would make is that they tend to be of an age and background where they have rarely had a woman as an equal colleague, as opposed to a secretary, clerk or whatever, so they are sometimes nonplussed.”
The only problem, she added, was when they insisted on talking about sport. “That can be a little bit wearing.”
A BIT like an infants school reception class, the House of Lords has members’ coat pegs, and in strict alphabetical order.
Thus it is that Baron Hague of Richmond, the former Conservative leader, abuts Baroness Hale of Richmond, who’s next to Baroness Harris of Richmond – the LibDem politician – who in turn is just a couple of pegs from Baron Houghton of Richmond, a former Green Howard who as Sir Nick Houghton became Chief of the Defence Staff.
“It’s remarkable that a town of 8,500 inhabitants should have four members of the House of Lords who take the name in their title,” she says.
Her husband, she adds, suggested that she became Lady Hale of Swaley-dale. “I thought that a little bit flippant.”
BIGWIGS undoubtedly, Supreme Court justices wear neither wigs nor other judicial finery. “Wigs looked silly when the first women barristers wore them in 1922 and they look even sillier now,” says the president.
Its proceedings can be viewed on the internet – “should you be sad enough to want to do so” – though she supposes that, without sight of all the papers, it must seem awfully boring.
Perhaps the most “amusing” recent case, she says, was that of the big gambler – known, apparently, as a whale – who claimed to have won £7.7m in two days at Crockford’s casino but was denied payment because of allegations of a dubious practice called edge sorting.
Cheating? The court held that it was. “There are all sorts of things by cheating which aren’t dishonest,” Lady Hale adds, intriguingly.
She also appears to be anticipating with some relish a forthcoming case in which a couple, heterosexual but unmarried, are claiming the right to register a civil partnership.
All things being equal, it should be fascinating.
IF not down some esoteric internet avenue, viewers may recently have seen the Supreme Court president as a judge on Masterchef, a semi-final to mark 100 years of women’s suffrage.
She told the media that her cookery teacher would sigh when she walked in and that her husband was the better cook – his signature dishes roast pork belly and casseroles – though Lady Hale enjoys making jam.
Though very far from a real life Judge Judy, who could suppose a senior male member of the judiciary so utterly letting his horsehair down, especially having flown overnight from North America?
Her house, it’s reported, has a cartoon of the Law Commissioners in which she is portrayed as Alice in Wonderland and her husband as Tweedledum.
Though glass ceilings may long have been shattered, there’s a stuffed mole and a stuffed rabbit – “we have a certain war with moles and rabbits” – and a large collection of ceramic frogs. “It’s an inside joke between us. My husband was my frog prince. Now people give us frogs.”
In the garden where she relaxes with a game of croquet, there are also some 6ft wooden centipedes.
She once told the Sunday Times that she found it difficult to get off to sleep – “usually because my brain’s still too active” – but that sudoku and word puzzles helped her switch off.
After an extraordinary evening, Britain’s top judge then draws the raffle. The Civic Society gives her a copy of their annual review. They’ve probably run out of Hobnobs.