Police posing a danger to women is nothing new, but the Sarah Everard case has gained attention because she was a “young, beautiful, middle class, white woman”, Baroness Hale of Richmond has said.
Lady Hale, who was the first female president of the Supreme Court and retired last year, said other women had suffered “equally horrible experiences” but their cases had not been given the same prominence.
“The view I would express about that awful, awful case is that if you practised law in the 1970s in the North of England you would inevitably have encountered story after story of police officers abusing their position with women.
“It is not a new phenomenon,” Lady Hale told the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
“What has been new in recent weeks is the prominence given to that story: a really horrible, horrible story, and perhaps exacerbated by the fact it was a young, beautiful, middle class, white woman, whereas all those women who had equally horrible experiences hadn’t had the prominence.
“But it’s good that it’s getting prominence. That’s very important. So I don’t mind why it’s getting prominence, as long as it is,” she said.
2,000 police officers accused of sexual misconduct
Wayne Couzens was given a whole-life prison term last month for the kidnap, rape and murder of Miss Everard. He had used his role as a police officer to trick her into getting into his car.
It has since emerged that almost 2,000 police officers have been accused of sexual misconduct in four years, yet two-thirds faced no action.
Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, has announced an independent inquiry into the “systematic failures” that allowed Couzens to be employed as a police officer.
Baroness Casey of Blackstock will lead a separate review into the culture and standards of behaviour within the Metropolitan Police.
Baroness Hale was asked at the festival if she had a view on whether Dame Cressida Dick, the Met commissioner, should resign. She replied: “If I had a view, I wouldn’t express it in company. I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to be expressing any view, especially after my retirement.”
Definition of feminism
Lady Hale also addressed the festival on the definition of feminism. “It means something really quite simple, which is that women are equal to men in dignity and in rights… their experience of life is as important in shaping and applying the law as is the experience of men,” she said.
“What I find really difficult to understand is why clever and successful women start a sentence with, ‘I’m no feminist…’ I find it a mystery. What’s not to like about what I just said?”
Lady Hale was promoting her memoir, Spider Woman, so titled because she famously wore a spider brooch when declaring that Boris Johnson’s prorogation of Parliament was unlawful.
She told the festival that the brooch held no meaning, and was one of several insect and animal brooches she owns as adornments for plain black dresses.
The newest addition to her collection may be a little more symbolic. Lady Hale disclosed that the UK Association of Women Judges gave her a scorpion brooch as a retirement present.