Elizabeth Lane represents a woman’s distinctive contribution to ‘justice’, or rather (in view of the statistics) mostly the lack of it, which still persists 50 years after she was the first woman on the High Court Bench

Judith Bourne and Frances Burton

Elizabeth Lane (1905-1988) was the first woman to be appointed as a County Court Judge (in 1962) and as a High Court judge (in 1965) in England and Wales. Her first official appointment came in 1948 as a member of the Home Office Committee of Enquiry into the use of Depositions in Criminal Cases. 12 years later, in 1960, she was appointed Queen’s Counsel – the third woman Silk in England & Wales alongside Helena Normanton and Rose Heilbron. In 1961 she was appointed Commissioner of the Crown at Manchester, the equivalent of today’s Deputy High Court Judges, and the Recorder of Derby.  In 1971, she chaired a committee on the working of the Abortion Act.

We know very little about Lane, save what she tells us in her autobiography. This could be because she feared accusations of self-publicising (a disciplinary offence for barristers). Her autobiography relates that she did not intend to be a pioneer of any sort, putting her success at the Bar down to good health and stamina, a capacity for hard work, a good temper, her ability to conceal her true feelings, not becoming emotionally involved, a pleasing voice, and good luck.

The full version of this landmark was written by Judith Bourne and Frances Burton.


Learn More

Joshua Rozenberg, ‘Blazing a Trail: Women and the Judiciary’ (The Law Society Gazette, 1 November 2012) https://www.lawgazette.co.uk/analysis/blazing-a-trail-women-and-the-judiciary/68163.article