Baroness Hale: The unique perspective of women judges on the law

From the Bar Law Reform Lecture, at the Inner Temple, London, delivered by the first woman law lord

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I was gratified but astonished by the delight with which my appointment was greeted by women lawyers from all branches of the profession and from all around the common-law world. This was not just because of the glass-ceiling breakthrough, the model which others might follow, or the dent in the allegedly homogenous mass of the pale male judiciary. There was a sense that the judicial product might be subtly changed or even improved by having a woman among the law lords.

I was gratified but astonished by the delight with which my appointment was greeted by women lawyers from all branches of the profession and from all around the common-law world. This was not just because of the glass-ceiling breakthrough, the model which others might follow, or the dent in the allegedly homogenous mass of the pale male judiciary. There was a sense that the judicial product might be subtly changed or even improved by having a woman among the law lords.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin [of the Supreme Court of Canada] has put it this way: "The ... most important reason why I believe we need women on our benches is because we need the perspectives that women can bring to judging." This is because: "...jurists are human beings, and, as such, are informed and influenced by their backgrounds, communities, and experiences. For cultural, biological, social and historic reasons, women do have different experiences than men."

One man's common sense is another woman's hopeless idiocy. No doubt once upon a time it was thought common sense that a girl of 13 who became pregnant, and had thus by definition been the victim of unlawful sexual intercourse, would be so likely to lie about the perpetrator that the only safe course was to insist that any prosecution was brought before any pregnancy had become apparent. But that was a moral or political choice rather than a common sense one.

Common sense comes in, it seems to me, at the point when one is seeking to provide practical, workable solutions to practical problems, like which school a child should attend or when a child should see her father, rather than at the point when one is trying to make the law. Legal principle and policy arguments are what come in then.

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