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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
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Lady justice

The new president of the UK’s Supreme Court, Brenda Hale, is not afraid to disrupt the legal establishment she now leads. Her feminism could shake up not just the young court, but the country. Is the judiciary ready, asks Afua Hirsch

Brenda Hale is telling a story. “Would you like to know what really happened?”, she asks, leaning towards me across a low coffee table, the wall behind us lined with law reports bound in red and burned orange. There’s something deliciously conspiratorial about the way the President of the Supreme Court asks this question, the promise of something juicy to come.

The story concerns an incident when Hale, then a High Court judge, was staying in official judges’ lodgings, while on the circuit outside London. “There were only six women High Court judges [out of a total of around 70], and they hadn’t really worked out what do to do with a judge who happens to be a woman,” she explains. The lodgings— and the entertainment—were run “very much along the lines of upper middle-class households between the wars.”

Female judges were thus expected to retire to a separate room after dinner, leaving the other judges uninterrupted with their port and male conversation. Hale observed the rule for some time with great annoyance. “When you first join something, you don’t make waves straight away,” she explains. “I went along with it in a very grumpy way! Which is the worst of all possible worlds.”

But one day, a younger female barrister was present. “The junior of the circuit was among the guests for dinner, and I thought, this bright young woman barrister should not be excluded,” she says. “It was because of her that I plucked up courage [to say] we are not leaving.” But there is a twist. Several years later, Hale met the same barrister again and she remembered the incident very differently. “Here was I telling her to do something, which she thought might not endear her to the male judges present. I had put her in a difficult situation.”

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In Prospect’s December issue: Adam Posen, Diane Coyle and Nicolas Véron examine the state of Britain’s economy with Brexit looming and suggest that with a large part of the City looking to move and with productivity remaining low the outlook is firmly negative. Posen suggests that the only thing capable of disciplining the Brexit economy is the reality that things are going to be worse. Coyle suggest that although Brexit will hamper Britain’s productivity, the problem is long-term. Véron argues that more than a tenth of the City’s business will disappear due to Brexit—a significant slice that will be difficult to cover off. Elsewhere in the issue: Steve Bloomfield uncovers what is going on at Dfid, the struggling government department that recently lost its Secretary of State. Nick Cohen looks at the rise of the Strong Man is Eastern Europe as Viktor Orbán clamps down on society and Lizzie Porter reports from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, a region plagued by war and political instability.