Elizabeth Lane

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Dame Elizabeth Lane

Dame Elizabeth Kathleen Lane, DBE (née Coulborn; 9 August 1905 – 17 June 1988) was an English barrister and judge. She was the first woman appointed as a judge in the County Court, and the first female High Court judge in England.

Early and private life[edit]

Lane was born in Bowden, Cheshire. Her father, Edward Alexander Coulborn, owned a mill. She was educated at home, and lived with her family in Switzerland for a year immediately before the outbreak of the First World War. After returning to England, she attended Twizzletwig School in Hindhead, Surrey, and then Malvern Girls' College, before deciding against studying at university.

She spent time with her brother in Montreal in 1924, where she met Randall Lane. They were married in Didsbury in 1926, and later lived in Manchester. They had one child, a son, in 1928; he had a mental disability and died in his teenage years.


After Lane's husband decided to become a barrister, they both studied the law at the same time. She was called to the bar at the Inner Temple in 1940, where she later became a bencher in 1966. She joined the Midland Circuit and was appointed King's Counsel in 1950, the third female KC in England after Rose Heilbron and Helena Normanton took silk the previous year. She was Assistant Recorder of Birmingham from 1953 to 1961 and then Recorder of Derby until 1962.

In 1962 she was appointed as the first female judge in the County Court. Three years later she became the first woman to sit in the High Court, assigned to the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, and was appointed a Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, corresponding to the customary knighthood received on appointment by a male High Court judge. From 1971 to 1973, she chaired a committee which investigated the operation of the Abortion Act.[1]


Her husband became legal adviser to the British Council. He died in 1975. Lane retired in 1979, and moved to Winchester. She continued to sit on the Court of Appeal from time to time. She became an honorary fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge in 1986. She died in Winchester in 1988, aged 82.


  1. ^ The International Dictionary of Women's Biography. New York: Continuum. 1985. p. 269. ISBN 0-8264-0192-9. 


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