Keynote Speaker

The Rt Hon. the Baroness Hale of Richmond DBE

Is Equality the Death of Marriage?


Throughout much of history, any self-respecting feminist would have hesitated to ‘dwindle into a wife’ if she had an alternative means of support. Many, of course, had no alternative and had to commit themselves to a patriarchal institution in which they were not recognized as equal partners. The formal equality achieved after the Married Women’s Property Act 1882 did not bring about substantive equality between the gendered roles of breadwinner and homemaker. But all that changed with the reforms which came into force in 1971. Despite that, fewer and fewer people are getting married. Why is that? Could it be that greater sharing and flexibility of family roles, and greater recognition of the value of the caring role, is a disincentive to marriage, not only for successful men, but also for successful women?  


Brenda Hale retired as President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, the UK’s most senior judge, in January 2020. After teaching law at the University of Manchester for 18 years (while also practising for a short time at the Manchester Bar), then promoting the reform of the law at the Law Commission for over nine years, she became a Judge in the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales in 1994. In 1999 she was appointed to the Court of Appeal and in 2004 became the first and only woman ‘Law Lord’ – that is, a member of the appellate committee of the House of Lords. In 2009, the Law Lords became the Justices of the Supreme Court, and she became its first woman Justice, Deputy President in 2013 and President in 2017. She is also President of the United Kingdom Association of Women Judges and a past President of the International Association of Women Judges. She has enjoyed working in all fields of the law, but her principal interests remain in family, welfare and equality law.