The last exclusively male bastion of judicial office is to be opened up to women for the first time in 600 years.
Brenda Hale, 58, a Court of Appeal judge and outspoken feminist, has been appointed the first law lady in the country's highest court. Lady Hale, as she will be known, will also be the youngest of the 12 judges in the House of Lords, replacing the Lord Millett, who retires on 11 January.
News of her appointment yesterday was greeted warmly by judicial reform campaigners, who described the announcement as long overdue. Katherine Rake, the director of the equality campaign group the Fawcett Society, said: "This is a welcome appointment at a time when the system for selecting judges is being criticised for producing an overwhelmingly white, male judiciary."
Vera Baird QC, MP for Redcar and chairwoman of the independent Commission on Women and Criminal Justice, said Brenda Hale would "outshine" the 11 law lords and her promotion would lead to more women being appointed to the most senior judicial office.
For many years, Brenda Hale, married with one grown-up daughter, has been an outspoken critic of the low representation of women among the judiciary. In a book published by the Law Society last month she revealed she had been "deeply affronted" by the way judges' official lodgings were run like gentlemen's clubs, where ladies were expected to retire after dinner.
She revealed that she had refused to leave the dining room on at least one occasion. In an interview last year she called on her legal colleagues to form women-only clubs to combat the old boys' network in the judiciary.
Lady Justice Hale said the minority of female judges felt "anonymous" and "isolated" on the bench. A female-only club would allow women to talk freely about "clothes", "cooking" and "childcare" without worrying that male judges would pour scorn on them.
The Prime Minister's decision to appoint Brenda Hale to the House of Lords will leave just two women judges in the Court of Appeal. Her appointment also raises the question of what to call the first female law lord. A spokesman for the Department for Constitutional Affairs said that while there was provision in the Courts Bill that permitted the Lord Chancellor to change judicial titles it did not extend to the House of Lords. He suggested that a formal statutory acknowledgment might not be necessary if Lady Hale became an accepted form of address.