Brenda Marjorie Hale

Presentation address by Professor Simone Buitendijk:

“Since 1904, the University has conferred honorary degrees upon outstanding individuals whose achievements are distinguished by excellence and originality.

Today, we honour Lady Brenda Hale, a pioneering academic, barrister and High Court judge who, as the first woman to serve as President and Justice of the Supreme Court, has been an inspirational ambassador and role model for equality in the legal profession. 

I do not use the noun ‘pioneer’ lightly, but then Lady Hale is exceptional: the youngest person and the first woman appointed to the Law Commission; and the first woman Justice and President of the Supreme Court.

Born in Leeds, Brenda Hale was brought up near Richmond in North Yorkshire and attended Grammar school before earning a place at the University of Cambridge to read law. In a traditional, male-dominated environment, she was more than anyone’s match, graduating top of her year.

Academia beckoned and Lady Hale joined the University of Manchester, specialising in social welfare law, family law, mental health law and women and the law, and working part-time as a Barrister. 

An opportunity to contribute more fully to change came in 1984, and her appointment to the Law Commission, specialising in family law and reforming laws on domestic violence. The introduction of the Children Act 1989, widely acknowledged as the most important piece of legislation protecting children in the UK, is perhaps her greatest legacy.

Few academics become judges. After her appointment as a High Court Judge in 1994, Lady Hale became only the second female judge on the Court of Appeal in 1999. In 2004, she was appointed the first, and indeed the only, Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, upon which appointment she chose a coat of arms with the Latin motto “Omnia Feminae Aequissimae”: “Women are equal to everything.” In 2009, she was named the first woman Justice of the Supreme Court, rising to Deputy President in 2013 and President in 2017.   

In a glittering career, Lady Hale’s entry into wider public consciousness came in September 2019, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Prime Minister had acted unlawfully when advising the Queen that Parliament be prorogued.  It was a powerful reminder of the primacy of the law.

Throughout her career, Lady Hale has championed diversity and equal opportunity in the legal profession, and has been a vocal advocate for women, particularly those from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds. 

Brenda Marjorie Hale, by virtue of the authority vested in me, I admit you to the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.”