Speech for the swearing in of the Lord Chancellor
Mr Attorney, let me begin by thanking the Lord Chief Justice for his kind words – and the warm welcome he has given me over the past week.
I am delighted to have been appointed to this role.
It’s a privilege and an honour for me to have been sworn in today as the first woman Lord Chancellor.
Although, as the Lord Chief Justice has mentioned, I may not be the first woman to hold the Great Seal.
The duties that go with this role today – to respect and defend the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary – must be upheld now as ever.
In my time as Lord Chancellor, I will uphold them with dedication.
Because the rule of law is the cornerstone of the British way of life.
It is the “safest shield”, as Sir Edward Coke – a great son of Norfolk – put it.
And as Lord Bingham wrote:
“the hallmarks of a regime which flouts the rule of law are, alas, all too familiar – the midnight knock on the door, the sudden disappearance, the show trial”.
The fundamentals of civilisation and liberty depend on the rule of law.
It is our safeguard against extremism, oppression and dictatorship – the separation of powers keeps the executive in check.
It is the basis of our prosperity, which is sustained by secure contracts and free trade.
And it shapes the fabric of our free society – the order, the stability, the equality and the individual freedom that we all love and respect.
We have inherited the finest legal tradition in the world.
And it is our duty to protect it.
We know that all successful societies have the rule of law at their core.
And it is a source of pride that the common law has played a key role in so many of them.
Our law, English common law, has shaped the world for the better.
It is at the heart of everything I believe in.
As a Parliamentarian, the rule of law has been at the centre of my work.
When I was in commerce – negotiating anything from shipping charters to telecoms supply agreements – every single transaction was underpinned by contract law.
And wherever I did business around the world, the preferred contract law was English law.
That’s because we have the most open and trusted legal system in the world.
That is why we are so often the first choice of legal venue for international litigators looking to be treated fairly.
They know that we have the greatest judiciary in the world, with a reputation for excellence, incorruptibility, objectivity and independence.
I would like to see that reputation acknowledged more widely at home.
Without judges – from the supreme court to the local magistrates’ court – the rule of law would be nothing more than an empty slogan.
You are the human face of the administration of justice, and there can be no higher calling.
As a career, it should be seen as attractive – and prestigious – by every possible person, from every possible background.
In time, this will help the judiciary to be drawn from a pool of the widest available talent.
As a young woman, I remember going to Leeds Crown Court to see a female barrister defending cases, and saw for myself how the profession was changing.
I saw how justice was done, the importance of trial by jury, how everyone participates in the legal process – it was an inspiring experience.
I want as many people as possible to have that same experience, to understand the process of law, to want to join the legal profession and to become judges.
There has already been fantastic work carried out by the Lord Chief Justice on this front – and I will help with that, widening and opening up the profession.
After all, the law is our common law, our shared law.
I am a great supporter of reform and modernisation throughout the courts and tribunals system; and that urgent task will be high on my agenda in the months ahead, as I know it is for senior members of the judiciary.
As the first woman Lord Chancellor, I am proud to be part of our constantly evolving justice system.
It is a system that evolves, from precedent to precedent, in step with society.
But all the while, the fundamental principles of justice in this country remain the same.
The thread running through it all is the rule of law – it shaped society in the past, does so now, and will do so in the future.