"It is a pleasure and a privilege to speak on behalf of the Bar of England and Wales to welcome and congratulate you on your appointment as Lady Chief Justice of England and Wales.
The office hitherto known as Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales has a long history, which can be traced back to the end of the thirteenth century, when the title Lord Chief Justice was given to the senior judge of the Court of the King (or Queen’s) Bench. That was but one of the three common law high courts, the others being the Court of Common Pleas, and the Court of Exchequer.
In the fourteenth century Lord Chief Justices came and went with alarming frequency, no departure being more alarming than that of Sir John de Cavendish, murdered in the peasant’s revolt by, some say, associates of Jack Straw. Historians believe that this Jack Straw may or may not in fact have existed, but for the avoidance of any possible doubt I ought to make plain that on any view this was not the same Jack Straw who, rather later, became Lord Chancellor.
A major change to the office of Lord Chief Justice came towards the end of the nineteenth century with the Judicature Acts. The three separate common law courts became divisions of the new, single, High Court in 1875.
But that produced a problem. How to deal with the relative seniority of these three heads of these divisions? And surely the High Court did not need quite so many divisions?
It must have been somebody who was both diplomatic and patient who engineered the solution. It just so happened that in 1880 two of the three senior judges died. It was at this opportune moment that it was decided to merge the three divisions into a single division – the QBD - with the surviving judge, Lord Coleridge who had been Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, being appointed the first Lord Chief Justice of England.
An overdue change came in 1996 when the position was first styled Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales.
But perhaps the most significant change of all came in 2005. The Constitutional Reform Act destroyed the historic position of Lord Chancellor, and created a new, important, but nevertheless very different post with, most confusingly, the same name.
The Lord Chancellor’s judicial functions having been removed, under the Constitutional Reform Act the Lord Chief Justice became the head of the judiciary of England and Wales and the president of the courts of England and Wales. Reflecting that, the post was invested with a specific statutory power to lay before parliament written representations on matters appearing to you to be of importance relating to the judiciary, or to the administration of justice.
That power has been used to lay annual reports before parliament, but not, as yet, for other purposes.
Meanwhile the Bar has done some evolving too. Helena Normanton, called in 1921, was the the first woman to practise as a barrister. In 1949 she and Rose Heilbron were the first women to be appointed Kings Counsel. My lady, in 1987 when you were called to the Bar 20% of the practising bar were women. When you took silk in 2003 the figure was 32%. Today it is 40%.
The constitutional importance of the post of Lady Chief Justice cannot be overstated. The challenges involved cannot be overstated. The virtues of patience and diplomacy that have moulded the position are no less important in the discharge of its responsibilities. My Lady, your purely judicial functions will always be exercised in public. But much of your immense influence will be wielded, and wielded most effectively, in private. And there will always be a gap between the level of activity the media would like to see from the Lady Chief Justice and what is wise or even appropriate for the Lady Chief Justice to undertake.
And all the while, because you are the first Lady Chief Justice, and because you have been appointed by a system which – by statute – selects solely on merit, you will be an unprecedented role model for all of those who are starting their careers at the Bar – including, but not limited to, the 51% of the present cohort of those who are starting practice who are women.
At the Bar we know that you will fulfil this role with distinction, and as a profession we stand ready to do all that we can ever appropriately do to assist you, and the judiciary you lead, in your fundamentally important task of doing justice and upholding the rule of law."