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Lady Hale’s ‘girly swots’ quip sparks constitutional row

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Supreme Court judge also referenced The Handmaid’s Tale as she told state school heads: ‘Don’t let the bastards grind you down!’

A photo of Lady Hale’s talk, from Twitter

Lady Hale has sparked a constitutional row after opening a speech with the words: “Let’s hear it for the girly swots”.

The president of the Supreme Court, who last month declared the Prime Minister’s prorogation of parliament “unlawful”, was speaking at the Association of State Girls’ Schools annual conference in Westminster on Friday when she made the comment.

The phrase “girly swot” was used by Boris Johnson to describe former PM David Cameron in a leaked government memo. And allies of BoJo reckon that Hale’s use of the term is “injudicious”. Iain Duncan Smith MP tweeted:

“For the president of the Supreme Court this is fundamentally injudicious of her — she’s opened herself to the question, who judges the judges?”

State school-educated Hale, who is a patron of the association, reportedly said: “I was a girly swot and there were quite a few young men who were, similarly, girly swots: they wanted to get on with their work and their lives”. The top judge was reflecting on her time at Cambridge University where she read law.

Hale, whose parents were both headteachers, was also reported to have told the gathering of all girls’ schools heads that her number one piece of advice to young women is: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down”. This is a phrase used in Margaret Atwood’s feminist novel The Handmaid’s Tale.

The top judge made the remarks under a presentation slide that quoted a Metro headline about last month’s ruling, “Spider woman takes down Hulk: Viewers transfixed by judge’s brooch as ruling crushes PM”. This was a reference to the spider brooch she wore when delivering the verdict and Johnson’s Hulk-Brexit metaphor.

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Responding to critical comments by Duncan Smith and others, Doughty Street Chambers silk Kirsty Brimelow QC took to Twitter in support of Hale. “And what actually did she say? Post the speech,” she wrote.

Her chambers colleague, Sarah Vine, added:

A spokesperson for the Supreme Court said Lady Hale had been unaware of the backdrop to her speech, stating:

“No, Lady Hale was not aware beforehand of the slide which was, we understand, a newspaper headline for which she was not responsible. Lady Hale said a few words before leaders of girls state schools and was glad to declare support for girly swots in that company.”

The first female president of the Supreme Court is set to retire from the top post in January. During Friday’s speech she wore a dragonfly brooch.

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18 Comments

Joe

She wouldn’t take the job, but Lady Hale would make a fine PM.

Anon

Hale wouldn’t be up to the job. Not bright enough; and she is also gauche and chippy.

Anonymous

No, she is practically a paid-up member of SWP/Momentum… a glorified female social worker with a law degree, and tows the same line as Chris Williamson MP (Lab (suspended))… she more of less directly twisted the law (via a deliberately pedantically-literal reading of the law) in 2012 in support of her own personal political beliefs in her dissent in the Julian Assange extradition warrant case… actual ‘Bias’.

Citing law reviews from Northern Ireland from Irish Republican sources… I think Sinn Féin should sent her a honorary lifelong party membership card upon her official retirement, no less!

Jay Z

I know everyone on here loves Lady Hale but this was a bad mistake. We are in a constitutional crisis where our institutions are being tested and the judiciary needs to be seen to remain completely neutral. Even wearing the big brooches is not a smart move as they drawn attention to Lady Hale the person rather than positioning her as simply a relatively anonymous senior judge (which is what she should aim for in order to fill her constitutional role).

Mr Mouse

I think that’s going a bit too far. The way judges are seen to be neutral is by their judgements and reasoning and not what they are wearing! People’s opinion of the judgement are unlikely to change in light of whether she’s wearing a brooch or presenting a speech in front of a dramatically-worded news headline. Besides, she had not read what the backdrop said, so she is not responsible.

Barrette

I think perhaps the president of the Supreme Court might be expected to pay some attention to the slides she speaks in front of.

And even putting the slide aside, making that quip about “girly swots” is really unwise. It’s obviously capable of giving the appearance of bias.

America shows that a politicised supreme court is undesirable. She may be a brilliant judge and an inspiration to young female lawyers and all the rest of it, but she is a *bit* of an attention seeker.

Legal Genius

Hale’s an idiot.

Anon

‘Girly swots’ are, by definition, male. It is a derogatory comment aimed at boys who fail to display appropriate masculine characteristics of knocking what’s left of their brain cells out on the rugby field.

Solid Chap

Of course, smashing your brains out on a rugby field is a noble and worthwhile thing.

Aspiring QC

Lord Sumption would not approve of this unprofessionalism.

Anonymous

I just ran the headline through Google translate LC Speak to English. This was the result:

“Lady Hale’s ‘girly swots’ quip sparks a few Tweets”

Lord Sumption

During my time as a supreme court judge I always thought Lady Hale was the least intelligent of my fellow judges. She once refused to make me a cup of tea which sent me into a rage that lasted 4 days

John Wilson

I wonder how Lord Sumption would respond if Lady Hale – for whom I have the greatest respect – asked him to make a cup of tea for her!

Anonymous

He would be almost as annoyed as he would be to see a LiP in court.

David Marusza

She will be greatly missed.

Not Lady H's PR person honest

I did wince a bit when I first saw this. Then again, she is allowed her personal views and shouldn’t be required to remain in her role even when speaking in a personal capacity. If a Parliament that claims to represent all can espouse the views that many feel appropriate at this moment in time, then a member if the judiciary should able to wear a broach and have a laugh every now and again.

You need an ego to get where she’s got, and I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have approved of all of Denning and Sumption’s words if we were privy to them.

Norman Staley Fletcher

Pretty sure “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” was said by Fletcher in Poridge.

Anon

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