The UK’s most senior judge is to give the Alice Bacon Lecture honouring the achievements of a pioneering Yorkshire MP in Leeds this evening.
Baroness Brenda Hale (pictured), the UK’s first woman law lord and the first female president of the Supreme Court, will talk at the University of Leeds on A Century of Women’s Rights.
This year marks the centenary of women being able to join the legal profession and hold public office. The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time.
Last January, the inaugural Alice Bacon Lecture—held to honour Yorkshire’s first woman MP—was given by senior MP Harriet Harman in a packed Great Hall at the university. The next lecture takes place this evening, kicking off at 6pm.
Leeds-born Lady Hale, who grew up in Richmond, North Yorkshire—her full title is Baroness Hale of Richmond—was the first from her school to go to Cambridge University and the first to read law. She was also the first woman member of the Law Commission and the first woman law lord (predecessors of the justices of the Supreme Court).
Lady Hale said: “Women in my generation could often be first—it’s much harder now for women to be the first at anything because we’ve nabbed all of those spots.”
“I feel a responsibility to be as good as I possibly can be in the job, partly not to let down women in the future—because there’s a risk if the first woman doesn’t do too well people will say ‘that’s because she’s a woman’.”
“I also feel that, if my having this role encourages young women starting out in a legal career to think ‘well, if she can do it, I can do it’, that’s wonderful.”
Alice Bacon was elected to represent Leeds North East in 1945 and served her city constituents continuously until her retirement a quarter of a century later (she transferred to Leeds South East when constituency boundaries were revised in 1955). Awarded a CBE in the 1953 Coronation Honours, she took up a seat in the House of Lords as a baroness on her retirement as an MP in 1970.
Leeds did not return another woman to the House of Commons until the election in 2010 of Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, who is also Baroness Bacon’s biographer.
Reeves teamed up with the School of Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds to establish the lectures in the name of her trailblazing forebear, with the aim of commemorating the achievements of West Yorkshire women.
Reeves added: “Following a fantastic year of celebrating 100 years since some women first won the right to vote, 2019 marks the centenary of women being able to join the legal profession and hold public office.”
“The Alice Bacon lecture provides us with the opportunity to commemorate the contribution women have made to politics and public life.”
She added: “It is an incredible honour to host Baroness Brenda Hale—the first female president of the Supreme Court—to hear her perspective of social and legal changes pioneered by women over the last century.”
Cristina Leston-Bandeira, professor of politics at the University of Leeds, said: “We very much look forward to welcoming such a high profile and inspiring senior judge as Lady Hale to give our students and others the opportunity to hear about women’s role in the legal profession over the past century.”
“British politics and representation form a significant strand of research and teaching for staff and students in the School of Politics and International Studies here at Leeds, as exemplified in the recent inauguration of our Centre for Democratic Engagement.”