Speech by Dr Victoria McCloud, Master of the Senior Courts: Rainbow Lives, Monochrome Laws – Reflections on law and identity

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The Queen, in Alice through the Looking Glass said that sometimes she had ‘believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast’. Today, being neither a monarch and nor, for the most part, a fictional character, I am faced with doing my best to manage a mere three impossible things, and to do so before dinner.

The first impossible thing is to live up to the standards of the inaugural lecture last year.

I have the honour to have been asked to come to this great university and to present the second Belfast Pride law lecture knowing that the inaugural speaker, last year, was Lord Kerr, the former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland and a Justice of the Supreme Court. I will fall short of his standards tonight but at least being only the second ever such speaker I am for the moment assured of ‘runner-up’ status.

The second impossible thing arises from the strict rule – and I quote – that “it is an absolute requirement that judges do not express views in public about matters of social or political controversy”.

I am tasked today with speaking about the law, and about issues of relevance to the LGBTQ community, and, just for good measure am invited to do so in Northern Ireland at what is self-evidently a time of social change, and legal and political debate on everything from Brexit to same-sex marriage. No doubt again I shall come up short, but not for want of trying to avoid controversy. As Lord Kerr has observed previously, and I gratefully adopt his way of putting it:

“it is not the role of a judge to advocate for social change, but rather to interpret and apply the law. It can, however, fall to us to determine difficult social and moral issues, such as what constitutes a family or whether a difference in treatment is justified. In such cases, we must remain scrupulously impartial, while also responding to broader changes in social mores.”

The third impossible thing relates to the very subject of this lecture and that is of course down to me. The title is Rainbow Lives, Monochrome Laws, Reflections on law and identity. That is a big title, and a big subject, and it will be impossible to do it any justice in one short lecture.

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