The lady and Their Lordships

Dame Brenda Hale made history earlier this year when she became the first female Law Lord. Here is an exclusive extract from the diary of her first week at Westminster
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The Independent Online


The big day, when I am "introduced'' into the House of Lords. Arrive at the House early and find that Ayo (my much-loved and lamented former clerk) has done a magnificent job moving, sorting and placing all my stuff in my new room. It's a good deal smaller than my room at RCJ [Royal Courts of Justice], but has a beautiful bay window overlooking Westminster Abbey, Pugin furniture, and the ubiquitous TV monitor announcing the business of the day (which I rapidly discover can not only show action in the Chamber but also real TV programmes - not that I propose to spend my time watching Sky, but there it is). Open relations with my new (shared) secretary. Sort out books and belongings. Not home yet. Feel very new.

Noon. Go down to the Peers' entrance to greet my guests. It's traditional to have a large lunch in the Peers' dining-room before the swearing-in ceremony, so follow suit. Panic about whether guests will find the right place, arrive in time, behave themselves etc. Much touched that Catherine Fraser, Chief Justice of Alberta, and her husband have flown all the way from Western Canada to be with us. Brings home how momentous women in the common law world think this is. Feel very small.

Pudding just served when participants in the ceremony - my two supporters, Garter King of Arms, and me - are whisked off to get robed, have endless photos and rehearse ceremony. Robes are a doddle after judicial kit - red wool with ermine trimmings but no collar and tabs, court coat, special shoes, wig or even hat. Most Law Lords have other Law Lords as their supporters, but I have two academics - Lord Flowers, former VC of London University, and Baroness O'Neill, Principal of Newnham College, Cambridge - representing the main ways in which I am just a bit different from others. The Garter King of Arms (a national treasure) is genial and resplendent in his tabard. Not exactly an enthusiast for political correctness, but you can't have everything.

After prayers, am collected by Black Rod, resplendent in velvet coat and knee breeches, and process into Chamber for ceremony. When my letters patent are read out, everyone roars with laughter at "so long as she shall well behave herself therein''. Chief Justice Fraser notices that the man sworn in after me, Lord Triesman, is not expected to behave himself and wonders whether only women are expected to be good. Not so: see Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876, s6 ("quamdiu se bene gesserint...'').

Duly sworn in, return to Chamber for courtesy listen to proceedings from cross benches before scooting off to find my guests milling around in lobby. What to do next? Show them my charming new quarters. Much rejoicing. Home for tea and further rejoicing. Feel very tired.


Further sorting, getting to know new secretary, dealing with vast amount of accumulated correspondence, meeting legal assistants (four between 12 of us)...


Time to collect my parliamentary laptop with obligatory training course. Oh bliss! Parliament has network so can be plugged in all the time. Moreover, get e-mails whenever we want. Very different from judicial system, where we need to dial up specially and everyone wants to do it at the same time. Less bliss! It's so modern that it doesn't have a floppy drive. More new things to learn on top of everything else...

Prepare for next day's sitting in Privy Council; a 17th-century standing order says that the junior is always asked to speak first, so I am vastly over-prepared.

Visit from three Pro-Chancellors of Bristol University to discuss new role as Chancellor, taken on before I changed jobs so hope I can cope.


First day sitting in Privy Council; only petitions for leave to appeal so nothing very different from the Court of Appeal except proceeding 200 yards to Downing Street by car and the vast committee room in which we sit.

Meeting of committee of UK Association of Women Judges late afternoon. Everyone has lots to say and we all behave in a thoroughly womanly fashion but make lots of decisions along the way. What a support group for me! We're having our first conference and AGM in March, planning sessions on topics such as "Judicial vs other careers: why are they so different?".


Hopefully the last press interview for a long time; the whole idea of giving a press briefing last November was not to have to do any more. But they keep asking. And this one is for Bristol University's alumni magazine which wants a profile of the new Chancellor so I can't say "no''. Say how nice it is to strengthen links with the academic world (no disrespect to the court world, of course, but there is more to life than litigation).

Look round the room as I leave for the weekend: two bulbs have now gone in the ceiling light, deepening the gloom, but it's already beginning to feel like home.

This diary is printed by kind permission of The Association of Women Barristers