Lady Brenda Marjorie Hale, Judge, Justice of the Supreme Court, The Right Honourable the Baroness Hale of Richmond, DBE, QC, PC, FBA is a British legal academic, barrister, writer, wife and mother. She is the first (and only) female member of the Supreme Court. As well as being at the very top of her profession, Lady Hale has been a lifelong ambassador for championing women’s rights and equality for all.
Lady Brenda Marjorie Hale, Judge, Justice of the Supreme Court, The Right Honourable the Baroness Hale of Richmond, DBE, QC, PC, FBA is a British legal academic, barrister, writer, wife and mother. She is the first (and only) female member of the Supreme Court. As well as being at the very top of her profession, Lady Hale has been a lifelong ambassador for championing women’s rights and equality for all. She was the first law lord to publicly back gay marriages. She was instrumental in the introduction of the Children Act 1989, the Family Law Act 1996 (domestic violence legislation) and the Mental Health Act 2005. She continues to promote increased diversity in the judiciary, and is currently President of both the International Association of Women Judges and the UK Association of Women Judges. Workingmums.co.uk is reproducing a conversation between her and Thames Valley Police Newsletter editor’s Wendy Walker.
WW: Did you make a conscious decision at an early stage in your career to aspire to be at the top, or did things fall into place without any conscious plan? What I’m trying to get at is at what stage in your career people should make the decision about whether to aim for the top positions.
BH: I never had a conscious plan for the whole of my future life. What I did plan was to make the very best I could of whatever I was doing at the time. So I tried hard to be top of the class at school (failing miserably in art and sport, but that was a good thing). I tried hard to get into Oxford or Cambridge and was thrilled when I did. I tried hard to do well at Cambridge but was very surprised when I did. It never crossed my mind that I would be good enough at Law to become a University teacher or that I would ever become any sort of Judge (the first full-time woman judge was appointed in 1962 just before I started my course).
After a few years of doing both University teaching and practising as a barrister in Manchester, I had to choose between them. When I chose the University, I tried hard to be as good an academic as I could, but never thought that what I did then would eventually lead to the Bench. But it was the books that I wrote then, the lectures that I gave and the journal that I edited that brought me to the attention of the powers that be and the jobs in public life, including the Law Commission that I later had. So the message of my life is to aim as high as you can in what you are doing now and to take up any exciting opportunities which come your way. You never know what the future will bring, so looking too far ahead may close off options. It can also bring disappointments: what if I had set out to be the first woman Law Lord and not succeeded? Would I have thought my life a failure whatever else I had achieved?
WW: Do you have a mentor? How should people find good mentors – do you choose someone you like, someone whose job you aspire to have or someone who is completely different to themselves?
BH: Do we choose our mentors or do they choose us? Three people were particularly influential in giving me sound advice and encouragement to do my best. One was a lecturer at Cambridge, who was an original and inspiring teacher, but also seemed to think that I had the ability to succeed. Another was a professor at Manchester, who encouraged his junior colleagues to get their academic show on the road, gave us contacts and ideas to help us do so, and ‘put me to my election’ between academia and the Bar. And the third was an academic specialist in Family Law, who inspired everyone with his enthusiasm and scholarship, and put some very good opportunities my way. All three of them seemed immeasurably my superiors but they were all doing work which I admired and could aspire towards. They also seemed to think that I had something in me. We need both.
WW: Have you ever been affected by the glass ceiling – do you have ay examples of negative treatment due to being female, or being a mother, or has this not affected you?
BH: I have been extremely lucky in being in the right place at the right time – an appointable woman when the lack of women was becoming embarrassing. But it’s all very well to be the ‘first woman’ this or that – the problem is to make sure that you are not the only or the last. So far I have not been very successful at this, which makes me think that there is still a glass ceiling out there for many women. And it does get a bit wearing being the only, sometimes lonely, one – you never quite know everything that is going on. But then I expect that applies to some of my male colleagues too!
WW: How do you like to relax? Is it important to you to achieve a home/work life balance?
BH: Work/life balance is a good idea but how many of us ever achieve it? I love my family, my home, my garden, music and drama. But my daughter remembers going to sleep to the sound of my typewriter. During the court vacations my husband and I sit at our computers in our shared study all day long. But we are enjoying ourselves most of the time doing what we do! But I shouldn’t give the impression that my life has been all work and no play. I’ve had a great deal of fun too, especially while at University and now later in life. But I am fortunate enough to find that my work is fun too, so I have the best of both worlds.
* This interview first appeared in the Thames Valley Police Newsletter, Women in the news. Thames Valley Police will have a stand at Workingmums LIVE in March.
Picture credit: creative commons and evamac10