Juliet Wheldon

Published 29th July 2014

Not only was Juliet a fantastic lawyer, but she also managed to bridge the gap between law and politics in a way far more accomplished than most. Her knowledge of these two sectors led to a tremendous career, encompassing many legal firsts which she took deftly in her stride. Juliet was the first female Treasury Solicitor and Head of the Government Legal Service, and was the first female General Counsel to the Governor of the Bank of England. Juliet was a great and active supporter of other women throughout her career, making her achievements all the more commendable.

Borne in 1950, Juliet attended Sherbone School for Girls, before achieving a first class honours in modern history from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. From here, she took a law conversion course – inspired to do so by her interest in political and constitutional policy- and was called to the Bar by Gray’s Inn. Before long, though, Juliet’s fascination with politics led her to pursue a career in the Government Legal Services in 1976.

In the ensuing years, Juliet skilfully navigated her way through various posts within both the Treasury Solicitor’s Department and the Law Officers’ Department, tackling issues such as the ‘cash for questions’ scandal and the question of the extradition of Chilean dictator General Pinochet.

In July 2000, her appointment as Treasury secretary made her the first woman to ever head the Government Legal Service and, aged 50, was the youngest person appointed to the role in modern times. Her role was also combined with that of HM Procurator General, whose array of responsibilities included the handling of any prize money accrued by the navy from enemy ships in wartime. Besides this oddity, Juliet’s responsibilities were always topical and crucial, with particular notability to her insistence that those serving in Iraq must be given assurances over the legality of their actions. She was made a Dame in 2004.

Upon retirement from this position, Juliet became Legal Adviser to the Governor of the Bank of England, once again a first for a woman, steering the Bank through much of the worst of the 2008 financial crisis. Juliet is remembered as much for her eccentricities as for her excellence. Many recall fondly her insistence that she went everywhere by bicycle, preferring this mode of transport even when a limo was the alternative. Although her position as one-time neighbour of Freddie Mercury did bring much amusement to her friends, she was by no means uncultured – despite the demands of her work, she indulged passions for art, opera and ballet, and travelled often. In 2013 Juliet lost her battle with the cancer which she had so stoically fought, leaving behind her legacy as a true legal pioneer.