Lady Justices Hallett and Sharp tipped to join Baroness Hale at top of the judiciary

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By Katie King on

Beyoncé could get some friends


The country’s top legal commentator has given his predictions about future candidates for the Supreme Court bench, including only two women and no ethnic minority judges.

The next three years will see half of the Supreme Court justices retire — including top dog Lord Neuberger — and these stars need replacing.

Speculation about who these replacements will be really took flight today. Honorary QC and top legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg — who has recently begun writing a series for the Legal Cheek Journal — has made his predictions for the top job. Having written extensively about the judiciary over the course of his career, Rozenberg is more than well positioned to make this forecast and, if he’s right, law student favourite Lady Hale may well be about to get some more female friends on the prestigious bench.

Rozenberg has flagged up two leading ladies in his article, published this morning — Lady Justice Sharp and Lady Justice Hallett. It seems Rozenberg thinks both women would be up to the task of joining Hale — the Beyoncé of the Supreme Court — on the bench, but it’s Sharp he’s really punting for. Describing her as the “judge to watch”, he notes that the 60 year-old has whizzed her way to the position of vice-president of the Queen’s Bench Division, having only been appointed to the Court of Appeal less than three years ago.

He’s less sure about Hallett. Speaking about her chances of nabbing a Supreme Court justice appointment, Rozenberg notes that the Court of Appeal judge — often photographed wearing her staple blue eyeliner — “would be up for it”. However, she might be a bit too old. Most of the contenders named are in their early 60s, with Lord Justice Sales coming up trumps as the youngest mentioned. A spring chicken at 54 years old, Sales is closely followed by Lord Justice Ryder — the second youngest at “only” 58.

The problem for 66 year-old Hallett is that Supreme Court justices must retire from the bench aged 70, which doesn’t give her long to leave her mark. Rozenberg explained:

She would have to retire after little more than two years in post… . But leadership posts in the judiciary are generally held by people who can serve for four or five years. Two years is too short.

Other contenders named by the legal journalist include openly gay judges Sir Terence Etherton and Lord Justice Fulford. There is no mention of any ethnic minority judges, and no more women.

Having only identified two female contenders in his article — one of which he then partially discounted — Rozenberg seems to predict that a male dominated bench is here to stay. The indefensible gender imbalance on the bench has long proved a heavy point of contention, and one that Hale herself has been very vocal about. Addressing the crowd at a recent event hosted by The Times, she said:

There is a special place in hell reserved for the first woman that achieves a certain status and then doesn’t help to lay the groundwork for the second, third, fourth, fifth and so on to follow after her. I really need to see another woman on the Supreme Court.

The reaction from some top women lawyers to Rozenberg’s predictions has been mixed, with leading barrister Dinah Rose QC describing the lack of women in the top court as “embarrassing”.