Outgoing Supreme Court president Lady Hale has been hailed as “an inspiring role model” in a ceremony ahead of her retirement.
Lord Reed, who will succeed her as president of the court in January, paid tribute to her “remarkable achievements” and her “immense contribution” to the law.
Lady Hale’s valedictory – the traditional ceremony for judges upon their retirement – was attended by members of the judiciary and the legal profession, who celebrated her “incredible” and “inspiring” career.
She told those gathered in a courtroom at the Supreme Court: “If Judge Brenda has inspired a younger generation to believe in the ideals of justice, fairness and equality and to think that they might put them into practice, Judge Brenda will retire content.”
Lord Reed said Lady Hale – the first woman appointed to the Law Commission, the first female Law Lord, the first female Supreme Court justice and the first woman president of the Supreme Court – was “an inspiration to women, and especially to women lawyers”.
He said “her greatest achievement as president was probably her handling of the prorogation case” in September, when the Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament was unlawful.
Lord Reed added that the famous spider brooch which she wore when giving the court’s unanimous ruling “has become a symbol of swashbuckling womanhood”.
He concluded: “We shall all miss an inspiring pioneer, a distinguished scholar and judge, and a valued friend.”
The chairman of the Bar, Richard Atkins QC, said Lady Hale had “dynamited her way into the public consciousness” to become a “single name celebrity” widely known simply as “Brenda”.
The president of the Law Society, Christina Blacklaws – sporting her own spider brooch – hailed the “enormous impact that you have had on women in the law and beyond”.
She added: “As a feminist, a lawyer and a leader, you have been a huge inspiration to so many of us.”
Lady Hale joked: “Not everyone thinks I’m such a good thing.”
She recounted how she was described as “the most ideological, politically correct judge ever to have been appointed” as a Law Lord, whose appointment in 2004 was said to epitomise “the moral vacuum within our judiciary and wider establishment”.
Lady Hale also appeared to refer to suggestions following the prorogation case that Supreme Court justices could go through a public hearing before their appointment, saying: “We do not want to turn into the Supreme Court of the United States – whether in powers or in process of appointment.”
She concluded by thanking her family, who were at the ceremony, and her colleagues throughout her career.
Lady Hale will now sit as a crossbench peer in the House of Lords, as well as working as a judge at Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal.