The judicial review committee of the House of Lords is the UK's highest court, except that it isn't technically a court. So, technically, that honor belongs to the Court of Appeal of England and Wales , which is why the Master of the Rolls, the head of the Court of Appeal, is the ranking judge in civil cases. The ranking judge in criminal cases is the Lord Chief Justice, which always makes me think of Gilbert and Sullivan. In Scottish criminal cases the highest court is the High Court of Justiciary. The High Court is a lower court than the Court of Appeal, although not the lowest court. And in all cases except those which go to the Judicial Committe of the Privy Council, the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords is, in effect, the UK's Supreme Court. Indeed, Prime Minister Tony Blair intends to take the Judicial Committee out of the upper chamber (the Law Lords are really Lords and they sit in the House of Lords — and even participate in debates relating to some legal matters), and replace it with a separate Supreme Court.
Anyway, whatever you may call it, the amazing thing is that the Judicial Committee/House of Lords/Supreme Court has never had a woman among its members. Until now: 'Incisive judge' becomes first female law lord.
Dame Brenda Hale is one of the new breed of judges who did not slowly rise up through the barristerial ranks, being graded on her chap-ness, but instead spent most of her career as an academic. What's more, she wasn't part of the London legal mafia — she was Northern. A Yorkshirewoman who taught at Manchester no less.
In the same interview, for the Law Society's handbook Women in the Law, she said she had been “deeply affronted” by the assumption at judges' lodgings that, as a woman, she would retire to another room after dinner while the male judges remained for port and conversation. On one occasion she insisted that neither she nor her female guest, a young barrister, would withdraw.
I think their Lordships are in for a little shock.