On 2 October 2017, Lady Brenda Hale was sworn in as the first female President of the Supreme Court. Lady Hale’s ascendance to the highest echelons of the judiciary is nothing short of ground-breaking: she was the first woman to be appointed to the Law Commission in 1984 and the first female law lord in 2004. A renowned campaigner for gender equality, Lady Hale created a coat of arms inscribed with the motto “women are equal to everything” on her appointment to the Lords.
Lady Hale is a moderniser whose most notable achievements have helped to shape the priorities of the Family Court today. In her role at the Law Commission, she was instrumental in the introduction of the Children Act 1989. As a judge, she centrally contributed to the passage of the Family Law Act 1996 and the Mental Health Act 2005. These legislative frameworks provide vital legal protections for children and survivors of domestic violence and the mentally ill, amongst other vulnerable groups.
In her judgments, Lady Hale has often sought to establish the principle of fairness in family disputes; in the landmark case of Stack v Dowden  UKHL 17, she emphasised the need to consider ‘the whole course of dealings’, as opposed to purely financial contributions, when inferring cohabitees’ true intentions as to the division of their beneficial interests in a jointly owned property. This has provided vital protection to the financially weaker party to unmarried couples.
In the Court of Appeal, Hale J, as she then was, delivered an important decision in Re D (Contact: Reasons for Refusal)  2FLR 48, recognising that a mother’s fear of domestic violence could damage a child and justify opposing contact between the child and father. She contended that the mother’s opposition to contact should not be automatically interpreted as unjustified ‘implacable hostility’, if the fear of domestic violence was genuine and rationally held.
Lady Jill Black, who sat as a High Court Judge of the Family Division before becoming a Lady Justice of Appeal, has also been appointed to the Supreme Court bench. Her appointment, as well as Lady Hale’s promotion, denotes an important step towards greater diversity among the most senior members of the judiciary.
On appointment, Lady Hale commented:
it is a particular pleasure for me to be taking up the post at the same time as we welcome only the second ever woman to sit on the UK’s top appeal court.