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27 February 2019

Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss Q&A: “Don’t let the buggers bounce you – that’s crucial“

The judge talks Angela Merkel, standing to be an MP, and Modern slavery.

By New Statesman

Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss was born in Buckinghamshire in 1933. She qualified as a barrister in 1955 and chaired the Cleveland child abuse inquiry in 1987. The first female Lord Justice of Appeal and the first female President of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice, from 1999-2004 she was the highest ranking woman in the judicial system.

What’s your earliest memory?

When I was three, I left my toy donkey on the beach at Sheringham. My nanny said we would find it next day and my mother told me it was lost forever. Nanny and I searched the rocks at low tide and found it.

Who was your childhood hero?

My father was a QC and very busy but a wonderful person. All the family including my own children loved and respected him. No one has replaced him.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

None. I am intellectually lazy. I read law books when I had to, but otherwise I mainly read novels, histories and biographies.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Angela Merkel, who, most of the time, has been a shrewd and effective leader and has played a pivotal role across Europe.

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

Modern slavery: ever since I joined the House of Lords I have been involved in tackling it within the UK and across Europe. I am co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on the subject, a vice chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation and am part of a team carrying out a review of the Modern Slavery Act at the request of the Prime Minister.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Elizabeth I reigned over a wonderfully exciting period of history, but I think I should have liked to have been a man at that time.

What TV show could you not live without?

BBC News.

Who would paint your portrait?

June Mendoza, the 92-year-old Australian artist. She is a most successful painter who catches the expression of her sitters.

What’s your theme tune?

“Que Será, Será (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”. It was popular years ago but captures my view of life. You have to get on with it.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

Don’t let the buggers bounce you. It was crucial advice: particularly as a woman in a man’s world.

What’s currently bugging you?

Brexit, for obvious reasons.

What would make your life better?

To stay in the EU. In my view we can only be worse off outside it. We lose the opportunity to play a significant role in the future of Europe – of which, by geography, we remain a part.

When were you happiest?

I am generally happy, so there is not an outstanding time.

In another life, what job would you have chosen?

An MP. At 25 I stood unsuccessfully, and then with a husband, a baby daughter and a budding legal career, I abandoned it.

Are we all doomed?

No, we are a very resilient people and have survived many thousands of years. I believe the human race will continue for generations to come. l

Baroness Butler-Sloss will be chairing Dr Claire Foster-Gilbert’s lecture, Can Institutions be Just?, at the Westminster Abbey Institute on 12th March​

This article appears in the 27 Feb 2019 issue of the New Statesman, How Brexit broke politics