Supreme Court judge Lady Hale takes apparent swipe at Boris Johnson: ‘I was a girly swot’

Senior judge laments ‘the other sort of male student, who wasn’t particularly interested in doing much in the way of work’

Vincent Wood
Saturday 05 October 2019 16:28
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Supreme Court rules the prime minister’s decision to prorogue parliament was unlawful

The woman who ruled Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament unlawful has described herself as a “girly swot” at a London conference, in an apparent reference to the prime minister’s use of the phrase

Mr Johnson was faced with criticism after using the words to refer to former PM David Cameron in a recent cabinet paper.

Lady Hale, the first female president of the Supreme Court, used the term to describe herself at the Association of State Girls’ Schools’ annual leadership conference

Referring to her father’s belief that single-sex education should be compulsory for girls and forbidden for boys, she said: “Now, these are two inconsistent positions, but you can work out why.

“Because... I found this in Cambridge – I was a girly swot and there were quite a few young men who were, similarly, girly swots: they wanted to get on with their work and their lives.

“But sometimes supervisions were invaded by the other sort of male student, who wasn’t particularly interested in doing much in the way of work, and who concentrated on trying to put the supervisor off with silly questions, and just generally not do a lot of work.

“Now, you’ll all be familiar with that as a pattern. So, one of the reasons why it’s a good thing to be in a girls’ school is you don’t get so much of that,” she said, according to the Tes, adding: “Of course, there are some girls like that as well, but you don’t get so much.”

Since Mr Johnson’s use of the term was revealed, some have taken it on as a badge of honour – including by BBC presenter Steph McGovern who told a convention where Mr Johnson had just spoken: “I’d just like to point out I am a girly swot and I’m proud of it.”

A Supreme Court spokeswoman said: “Lady Hale said a few words before leaders of girls state schools and was glad to declare support for girly swots in that company.”

The judge, who read out the ruling on Mr Johnson’s prorogation of parliament, added that her main piece of advice to young women was “don’t let the bastards grind you down”.

She added: “When I last talked to you, we had just doubled the number of women on the Supreme Court from one to two – a very good observation of how unreliable statistics are because doubling sounds so good, then you realise from what a small base. And then last year we went up to three – a quarter of the Supreme Court.”

She went on to say: “The story of what’s happened to law and legal education, women and diversity in law, is a good model for all the other things you want to get your young women into – the STEM subjects and technology, computing.”

“I’m sure those are all the messages you want to give to your young women – and you can say, ‘Well, look how things have changed over Lady Hale’s lifetime,’ and they can continue to change over your lifetime, and for heaven’s sake, don’t let anybody put you off.”

Additional reporting by PA

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