Lady Hale leads panel making feminist readings of court judgments

A panel of distinguished female lawyers and legal scholars gathered at Norton Rose’s InterLaw Diversity Forum event on Thursday 13 October to discuss judgments from a feminist lawyer’s point of view.

Baroness Hale
Baroness Hale

The event coincided with the recent launch of Norton Rose’s women’s legal network and focused on the core findings of the book Feminist Judgments, which was put together and edited by three feminist legal scholars.

By writing the ’missing’ feminist judgments in key cases, the book tests feminist knowledge in practice, in decisions in individual cases.

The cases chosen are significant decisions in English law across a broad range of areas and are primarily opinions of the Court of Appeal or the House of Lords.

In some instances they are written in a fictitious appeal, but in others they are written as an additional concurring or dissenting judgment in the original case.

The evening’s debate centred around the notion that there cannot be a neutral  perspective in legal decision making and considered the impact that gender may have on the law. Three decisions of the English courts were presented by top female legal scholars, provoking discussion about what a feminist judgment in these cases might have looked like. 

Among the panel was Supreme Court Justice Baroness Hale, who is the only female member of the Supreme Court.

Hale SCJ raised notable cases she presided over that brought about a clash of legal values between her co-judges. These included the much-publicised divorce of a German heiress and French investment banker in the case of Radmacher v Granatino and ex-ballerina Elaine McDonald’s loss of the right to an overnight carer after being left with reduced mobility after a stroke.

Commenting on a quote by the late US judge Benjamin Cardozo, Hale SCJ said: “It’s just the eccentricities of men that are rubbing up against one another, and we need the eccentricities of rather more women as well. We should have a true diversity of minds at the highest level.

“There are still too many systemic barriers to recognising the merit that so many women have – a trickle up to the top is just not going to work,” she added.

CMS Cameron McKenna capital markets partner Daniel Winterfeldt, who is co-chair and founder of the InterLaw Diversity Forum, said: “We think that women’s issues are critical and what we need is to see more women at the top of the profession.

“When speaking to both straight and LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] women the most important issues raised are not about sexual orientation or gender identity; the issues that comes at the top of the list are the challenges and unique experiences women within the legal profession face,” he added.

Also on the panel was Norton Rose professional support lawyer and co-chair of the InterLaw Diversity Forum Laura Hodgson as well as Norton Rose’s group head of litigation and resolution Deidre Walker.