As her diamante spider brooch glinted under the Supreme Court lights, Lady Hale showed her fangs

‘Oh! What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive’

Jennifer McKiernan
Tuesday 24 September 2019 17:48 BST
Supreme Court rules the prime minister’s decision to prorogue parliament was unlawful

As statement jewellery goes, a giant diamante spider brooch on a plain black robe is definitely sending a message.

This was no understated glint. Lady Hale chose a bug with a body the size of a hand grenade as she handed down a dynamite decision.

Silvery legs twined up towards her shoulder as she explained that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament was unlawful, void and of no effect.

Now, she may be president of the Supreme Court but, just like the Queen, if you wear something like this as you go about your very important business, journalists like me can’t help but interpret what you’re trying to say.

Spiders are often seen as the scariest of the creepy-crawlies, scuttling out of dark corners to bite their prey and trapping unwilling victims in their webs.

On one level it looks like a not very subtle message to Boris Johnson and his team, particularly the element of ambiguity around whether or not he would obey the ruling: a simple “don’t mess with me I bite back”.

Her detractors have barely hidden their cartoonish levels of rage at the power of the courts to hold the prime minister in check when necessary, and particularly because it is a woman wielding that power.

Maybe Lady Hale was mocking her enemies by dressing witchily in the run-up to our Halloween Brexit day. If you’re going to be a totemic target for the Daily Mail or the Daily Express, you might as well dress for the occasion, right?

But, more than this, I think she may well have a genuine affection for spiders and the work they do, which has always been associated with femininity due to the connection with weaving.

My suspicion is that Lady Hale was trying to emphasise how, when somebody’s great clodhopping boots trample through the constitutional undergrowth in the way Johnson’s have, spiders have the ability to carefully and patiently weave their webs back together again.

As she announced the unanimous judgement of the highest court in the land, I think Lady Hale wanted people to see how she was weaving a delicate protective web against the destructiveness of the prime minister’s actions.

The decision made clear the justices felt the boundaries in that grey area between parliament, the government and the courts had been overstepped. We need these checks and balances to prevent wannabe despots and dictators acting with impunity.

Lady Hale is helping to stitch things back together, and not because she is part of an establishment stitch-up as the first female president, one with a northern background and a state school education, she is no Jacob Rees-Mogg.

That act of rebuilding has more to it, and hints at the spider as a symbol of female strength.

Lady Hale’s ruling today has the secondary effect of picking up legislation that was dropped due to the suspension of business in parliament. And as a proud feminist, she cannot have missed the fact two key Bills, one bringing in new legislation against domestic abuse and another to update divorce laws and allow no-fault separation, are now revived.

Not only has Lady Hale stitched together protection for the separation of powers today, she has also woven a safety net for women waiting for these vital Bills to become law, ensuring they are not allowed to simply drop off the schedule.

So I salute Lady Hale’s work and the symbolism, both stark and sophisticated, of her giant spider brooch.

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