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What’s a Box of “Bakewell Tarts” Got to Do With It? Performing Gender as a Judicial Virtue in the Theatre of Justice


On a July morning in 2013 a box of a popular English branded confection called “Cherry Bakewells” appeared in the court of the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. It generated much laughter. The event was the swearing in ceremony for Dame Julia Wendy Macur as a judge of the Court of Appeal. If her appointment was a cause for celebration, the backdrop to the event was the serious business of judicial renewal and the gender composition of the judiciary. Neither topic is a laughing matter. Drawing upon data generated through the observation of 18 swearing in events this chapter uses the gender/ humour interface to examine the gender dynamics of the social world of the judiciary as an institution.


  • Ceremony
  • Gender
  • Judicial virtues
  • Laughter
  • Swearing-in

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  1. 1.

    The Bakewell tart is an English regional delicacy, associated with the town of Bakewell in the Derbyshire Dales, although there is no evidence that it actually originated there (see Cloake 2013 for more information about the history and recipes). The commercial version offered in court has a shortcrust pastry case, a plum and raspberry jam and sponge filling with a white icing covering topped with half a glacé cherry. The branded box, sold in most British supermarkets, contained six small tarts.

  2. 2.

    Since 2005 the Lord Chief Justice has been head of the judiciary. See Constitutional Reform Act 2005 s.7.

  3. 3.

    Hale was the first woman ever appointed to the United Kingdom’s highest appeal court: the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords and since 2009 the UK Supreme Court. Over ten years and 13 new appointments, she remained the only woman. In 2017 a second woman, Jill Margaret Black, was appointed to the Court. Hale was promoted to President in the same round of appointments.

  4. 4.

    On a small number of occasions it was possible to obtain a written copy of speeches delivered by the lawyers who spoke after the Lord Chief Justice. See Bennathan (2013), Eaton (2013), Hubble (2013). Dyson (2013) is a speech delivered by the then most senior judge of England and Wales on the occasion of the swearing in of Lord Thomas as Lord Chief Justice.

  5. 5.

    At the time the research was undertaken cameras were not allowed in the courts. The only exception was the UK Supreme Court. In that Court since 2013 videos of swearing in ceremonies have been published via the Court’s website. In England and Wales, the first video recording of a swearing in ceremony in the Court of the Lord Chief Justice was made in October 2016. Elizabeth Truss was sworn in as the first woman to hold the office of Lord Chancellor. See

  6. 6.

    This practice was shaped by previous research that noted the importance of humour as research data in the past (Moran et al. 2002).

  7. 7.

    Limited changes affecting the Supreme Court were introduced by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. s. 32. The Crime and Courts Act 2013 made some changes to the prohibition on cameras in the courts of England and Wales. In both cases the use of cameras is strictly controlled.

  8. 8.

    Glenn (2003) notes the possibility of laughing at one’s own jokes as a possible exception that supports the general rule.

  9. 9.

    One context in which the relevance and nature of the response is examined is in a debate about the status of “failed humour” where the speaker’s humorous intention is not acknowledged or responded to by the audience. For example see Holmes (2000). This is not an aspect of humour considered here.

  10. 10.

    The swearing in events are not the only case of humour taking place in the time inbetween the ordinary business of justice at the Royal Courts of London. The cathedral-like space of the main entrance hall of the court complex is used out of court time for a number of leisure activities such as badminton competitions, the performance of operas, debutantes’ balls, wedding receptions, conference cocktail parties and celebratory dinners. All have strong associations with entertainment and the frivolous.

  11. 11.

    Humour was not a part of any of the speeches delivered by the Presidents of the Law Society of England and Wales.

  12. 12.

    None of the speakers or judges in this study could be identified as from a black or visible ethnic minority background.

  13. 13.

    Cricket terminology would normally use “left-arm bowler”, reserving handedness for the batsman, i.e., left-hand batsman. The phrase “left-hand bowler” was recorded in the author’s field notes for this swearing in ceremony. The metaphorical meaning is the same for both expressions.


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Correspondence to Leslie J. Moran .

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Moran, L.J. (2018). What’s a Box of “Bakewell Tarts” Got to Do With It? Performing Gender as a Judicial Virtue in the Theatre of Justice. In: Milner Davis, J., Roach Anleu, S. (eds) Judges, Judging and Humour. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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