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Notebook

Lady Hale’s Christmas diary (as told to Quentin Letts)

21 December 2019

9:00 AM

21 December 2019

9:00 AM

They say I must retire next month when I turn 75. Irritating. I have been a member of the Supreme Court since 2009 but its president — a term I do like — only since 2017. There is still much to be done. Julian, my current spouse, indicates he has little desire to have me under his heels at home. I would merely get in the way of his dusting and the Tupperware parties he holds every month with other SW1 house-husbands. Jolyon Maugham QC — a slightly familiar young man, but I am told he has the right views — comes to see me. He proposes challenging the legality of my compulsory retirement, perhaps using the Scottish courts. We could ‘crowd-fund’ the costs, he says. I doubt there are that many fools in the world. ‘You’d be surprised,’ says Mr Maugham. He feels we could pursue the case all the way to the top, i.e. to the Supreme Court. Given tiresome levels of press scrutiny I suppose I might have to recuse myself from any such judgment. Could I rely on my fellow justices to reach the right decision without my helping hand?

As I once told Barack Obama (I think he was grateful for my advice), a president must be a leader, a strategist and a disciplinarian. At October’s state opening of parliament, one of my colleagues sauntered into the House of Lords with hand in pocket. ‘Wilson!’ I exclaimed. ‘This is not a queue for the bookmaker’s!’ I told him I would sew up his trouser pockets if we had a repeat of that sort of thing.

Julian points out that I never complain when Lord Pannick QC plunges a hand into his pocket while developing a case before us. Ridiculous. I can hardly say ‘Don’t, Pannick!’ during a Supreme Court hearing. One does not wish to be caricatured as Corporal ‘Jonesy’ Jones.


Alan rings. My heart goes pit-a-pat. I ask him to hold the line because Julian is outside my study in his pinny, making a din with the Dyson. I close the door and now I can hear Alan’s ravishing voice. A masterly timbre is only appropriate for the principal of Lady Margaret Hall. Alan recently invited me to be one of the college’s visiting fellows. The others include Katie Price, Russell Brand and a Mr Gary Lineker, who used to play association football. I am not sure I have ever met anyone called Gary but there is a first time for everything. Alan says he has the most beautiful thighs. Gary, that is. I suspect Alan’s thighs are no less remarkable.

One annual chore is organising the Supreme Court’s Christmas jolly. ‘Jolly’ is not an entirely accurate word — I don’t know if you have ever met my fellow justice Lord Carnwath — but ‘outing’ has its difficulties and ‘knees-up’ is unsuitable given the decrepitude of some of them. Anyway: where to go for our party? Most of them like French cuisine but, with the Brexit horrors, this is ruled impolitic. The men hope for the Garrick Club but I cannot abide that chauvinist establishment. Being chased round the bar by Derry Irvine shouting ‘Come to me, lassie’ with a fistful of mistletoe is not my idea of fun. One of our interns says that we should visit a food bank and dine there, but this meets with long faces in the robing room. I finally alight on a suggestion from the Attorney General. He recommends an establishment called McDonald’s — a Scots restaurant, it seems. The Attorney says something about ‘good game, good game’ and exhorts me to ask for its venison, ‘even if the staff say it is not available — they do that to keep the good stuff for their regulars’. McDonald’s it is, then. I am told there is no need to book because the service is so efficient. I am grateful to Geoffrey. It is good of him not to hold a grudge after that prorogation judgment.

Julian has taken up knitting and is making me a Christmas bobble hat with a pattern saying ‘11-nil’, to mark our comprehensive spanking of Boris Johnson’s ‘government’. I like hats. Julian’s homemade Christmas crackers always contain paper hats and he sometimes makes them resemble those black caps worn by judges in the good old days when we could send the lower orders to the gallows. One of the many good things about the Supreme Court — constitutional heft, European harmonisation, etc. — is that I get to wear a flat squashy hat at ceremonial occasions. My daughter says it looks like a lardy cake, which is something the poor eat on Saturday mornings. Very bad for their waistlines, no doubt.

Kenneth Clarke pops in for one of his moans. I have not known many Conservatives but as I say to Kenneth, he is not really a proper (i.e. improper) right-winger. He also happens to be a lawyer, though not, I fear, a very hygienic one. He arrives at the door with muddy shoes and I am obliged to remind him of our house rules. We soon have his Hush Puppies covered in our habitual prophylactic: a pair of shower caps. (One of the consolations of staying in three-star hotels, as judges nowadays must, is the regular supply of free shower caps.)

Sir Keir Starmer — little Keir, such a dear — has asked us to his New Year fancy-dress party. Le tout Holborn will be there. Hilary Benn is going to be a flowerpot man, Diane Abbott is coming as Pierre Trudeau, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette are coming as the Blacks and Carole Cadwalladr has an Eliot Ness costume. Alan thinks I should go as Spider-Woman, after that famous brooch I wore, but at present I intend to go as ‘Brenda from Bristol’. I have been listening to The Archers to perfect the accent.

Quentin Letts writes for the Times


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