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Friday, 22 March, 2002, 10:35 GMT
Dame Elizabeth: UK's top woman judge
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss
Dame Elizabeth deals with many controversial cases
Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss is the UK's most senior female judge and presides over many ethical dilemmas.

She broke into the judicial elite when she was made President of the High Court Family Division in 1999.

Since then she has opened up to public scrutiny many of the difficult decisions of her division in areas including divorce, child custody and the rights of patients who cannot make their own decisions.

James Bulger's mother Denise Fergus
She raised the ire of Denise Fergus by granting anonymity for the killers of James Bulger
Her decisions have often been sensitive, and her home near Exeter is often the target of placard-waving protesters.

But colleagues say the mother of three has a no-nonsense approach in court, combined with a natural courtesy.

Child law expert Allan Levy QC said: "She has an extraordinary understanding of people from all walks of life... she's also very patient. Even people who have lost their cases feel that she's given them a fair and sympathetic hearing."

Richard Gordon QC said: "She's very practical, very down to earth, very robust, and very decisive."

Controversial cases

Dame Elizabeth, 68, has allowed a conscious but paralysed woman to have her hospital life-support system switched off, in what she termed an "agonising" case.

In the late 1980s she was much acclaimed for her report into the Cleveland child abuse inquiry which resulted in the 1989 Children Act.

The act incorporated many of her recommendations aimed at ensuring that children were not removed from parents unless absolutely necessary.

In other famous cases:

  • She ruled that the child killers of toddler James Bulger should be entitled to lifelong anonymity

  • She overrode the wishes of the parents whose 15-year-old daughter, already a mother, sought an abortion

  • She dismissed an appeal by millionaire racehorse owner Ivan Allan against an order that his former mistress, Glory Anne Clibbery, should be allowed to reveal details of their relationship

  • She blocked a mother's attempt to have her 29-year-old mentally disabled daughter sterilised

  • She blocked a man's legal battle to see a test-tube baby daughter, who was conceived after his relationship with the mother broke up.

In 1999 she said she supported the adoption of children by gay couples, although she did not go so far as to advocate a change in the law.

Actors aunt

Dame Elizabeth comes from a legal family. Her father was a high court judge, who sentenced to death Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain.

She is the sister to the late Lord Chancellor, Lord Havers, making her aunt to the actor Nigel Havers and his brother, Philip.

Glory Anne Clibbery on the steps of the High Court
She delighted Glory Anne Clibbery by allowing her to tell her story
The latter represented Miss B, the woman seeking the right to die, in the recent High Court case.

Dame Elizabeth, who went to Wycombe Abbey School but never to university, was called to the Bar in 1955.

She became a High Court judge in 1979 at the age of 46 and in 1988 became the first woman appointed to the Court of Appeal.

In her early career she stood while pregnant as Conservative candidate in the Labour stronghold of Vauxhall and lost, then set up and ran a nursery for toddlers at a basement in the Temple, one of the Inns of Court.

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