A Lady Spiritual?

Not a lot to do with law & religion, but nevertheless…

From Monday’s Lords Hansard:

Introduction: The Lord Bishop of Gloucester

2.49 pm

Rachel, Lord Bishop of Gloucester, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Baroness Northover tabled a perfectly understandable question to the Leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Stowell of Bestow: “What discussions she has had with relevant authorities regarding a gender specific title for the first woman bishop to be introduced into the House of Lords, currently described as the Lord Bishop of Gloucester” [HL2684]. To which Baroness Stowell  replied:

“Following discussions between the Church of England and the Crown Office, it has been agreed that ‘The Lord Bishop’ will continue to be the appropriate designation for all Bishops in the House of Lords.”

In matters like this, institutions can sometimes be quite slow to change. When in 1988 Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss became the first woman to be appointed to the Court of Appeal, her formal title was “Lord Justice” because that was how the office was required to be styled by s 2(3) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 unless and until that section could be amended. That led counsel, when referring to her in court, to adopt the slightly bizarre usage “My Lady, Lord Justice Butler-Sloss”.

Some time afterwards, however, common sense broke out; and in Mode Of Address: Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss [1994] EW Misc 1 (Practice Note) Bingham MR described the usage as

“plainly absurd … Nothing can for the time being be done to alter the formal position, but for informal purposes it is desirable that reference should be made to Lady Justice  Butler-Sloss, so that she will be referred to in court as ‘My Lady,  Lady Justice  Butler-Sloss’.”

As to Parliament, the first woman to occupy the Speaker’s Chair in the House of Commons was not, as most people probably imagine, Betty Boothroyd, but a much earlier Betty – Betty Harvie Anderson, Conservative Member for Renfrewshire East, who became Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (and therefore a Deputy Speaker) in 1970. “BHA”, as she was affectionately known to my generation of Commons Clerks, insisted on being addressed as “Mr Deputy Speaker” (and appeared as such in Hansard) on the basis that the office was the office and the sex of the occupant was in her view a total irrelevance. When Betty Boothroyd became a Deputy Speaker in 1987, however, life had moved on; and on first occupying the Chair declared in ringing tones (but no doubt somewhat tongue-in-cheek) “Call Me Madam“!

Frank Cranmer

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "A Lady Spiritual?" in Law & Religion UK, 30 October 2015, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2015/10/30/a-lady-spiritual/

3 thoughts on “A Lady Spiritual?

  1. Pingback: First woman seated in the House of Lords | Episcopal Cafe

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