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Friday, 20 March 2015
Old Girl Dame Janet Smith recently became the first female to give the annual Ryder Lecture at the University of Bolton. The prestigious event was named after the first speaker, the Honourable Mr Justice Ryder, also an Old Boy and now the Chancellor of the University of Bolton.
Lady Justice Smith spoke to the Law School on the topical subject of Public Inquiries, asking the question, ‘Are they important or a waste of money?’ Her lecture was informed by recent inquiries into historic and current child sex abuse cases, the conduct of the press, and the war in Iraq.
Professor Stephen Hardy, head of the university’s Law School, said, “This is a milestone in the history of the Law School and the Ryder lecture series because Dame Smith is the first female speaker in this most prestigious event.”
A former High Court judge and president of the Council of the Inns Court, Dame Janet was called to the Bar in 1972 at the comparatively late age of 32; she had turned down a place to read science at Girton College, Cambridge, in order to marry and have children. She practiced in Manchester for twenty years before being made a QC in 1986 and a High Court judge in 1992. In 2002, she became the first woman to be promoted to the Court of Appeal.
She chaired the Harold Shipman inquiry, and in 2011 became independent assessor for miscarriages of justice. Some of the other high-profile cases she has been involved with are the landmark £500 million settlement for 30,000 miners suffering from ‘white finger’ syndrome, and the 1991 investigation into the ill-treatment of autistic children at Scotforth House in Lancaster, of which she was the chair. She is currently leading the inquiry into the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Dame Janet still recalls her time in the Girls’ Division: speaking about her trip from her home to the lecture, she said, “We drove past Bolton School and I saw the children coming out, that brought back memories – the uniform is still the same.”
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