International Women’s Day 2021: Baroness Hale
As part of Beyond Group’s celebration of International Women’s Day, and in the second of the blogs from our specialist family law firm McAlister Family Law, paralegal Nina Rawlings explains why Baroness Hale of Richmond is a woman for whom the equality of women in the eyes of the law is a fundamental principle of the law itself.
Baroness Hale of Richmond is the first woman to serve on the Law Commission, the first woman to serve on the UK’s new Supreme Court and the first female president of the UK’s Supreme Court – yet she is perhaps most well known for that spider brooch.
In Baroness Hale of Richmond, I celebrate someone for whom the equality of women in the eyes of the law is an absolutely fundamental principle of the law itself. So much so that her appointment as a Law Lord bore with it the self-imposed motto, Omnia Feminae Aequissimae – Women are Equal to Everything.
She is particularly relevant to the work we do every day at McAlister Family Law. Not only did she spend close to 20 years teaching law as a Professor at Manchester University, she was influential – indeed she has been called the principal architect – in leading the work which brought about the very creation of the Children Act 1989. She was also instrumental in the creation of the ground-breaking Family Law Act 1996 and Mental Capacity Act 2005.
Whilst she is recently most well-known for ruling on Boris Johnson’s invocation of the prerogative power to suspend parliament, which she deemed to be ‘unlawful, void and of no effect’ (R (on the application of Miller) v The Prime Minister, Cherry and others, v Advocate General for Scotland –  UKSC 41) – she also famously ruled in 2011 on domestic violence in relation to homelessness in which she explored the definition of such violence and held that violence extends beyond that which is purely physical (Yemshaw v London Borough of Hounslow –  UKSC 3). Herein she cites Lord Scarman; violence is ‘conduct which makes it impossible or intolerable…for the other partner, or the children to remain at home’. This re-defined the very notion of violence against women in the eyes of the law and enabled by virtue of legal precedent further future protection of women’s rights.
At present there still remains a significant gender imbalance within the law. The Government’s official 2020 diversity statistics revealed that of the UK’s Queen’s Counsel, only 17% are female with female judges being at 32%. This number is lower when looking at the senior courts: 26% female judges in the High court and above. There is still much to be done in terms of achieving equal representation. The flip side of this is that in 2019-2020, of the 20,905 UK students accepted onto university law courses, a staggering 14,520 of these were female. In the year ending July 2019, of 6,344 new traineeships, 4,148 of these went to females. (statistics taken from the Law Society Annual Statistics Report, 2019). There can be no denying that trailblazing women such as Baroness Hale, and their visibility in the law, have paved for the way younger generations of women to shatter the historically masculine hegemony.
Baroness Hale remains to this day a fierce advocate for child welfare, equality law and diversity in the legal profession. British Vogue labelled her ‘a heroine for our times’, although I prefer her nickname ‘the Beyoncé of the legal profession”.
She is truly a woman who is equal to everything.