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|The Supreme Court|
of the United Kingdom
(Welsh: Y Goruchaf Lys)
|Established||1 October 2009|
|Location||Middlesex Guildhall, London, England|
|Composition method||Appointed by the Monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister|
|Authorized by||Constitutional Reform Act 2005,|
Part 3, Section 23(1) and s. 23 (whole section)
|No. of positions||12|
|Currently||The Baroness Hale of Richmond|
|Since||5 September 2017|
|Since||7 June 2018|
The Supreme Court (sometimes colloquially referred to by the acronym UKSC) (Welsh: Y Goruchaf Lys) is the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases, and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It hears cases of the greatest public or constitutional importance affecting the whole population.
It assumed the judicial functions of the House of Lords, which had been exercised by the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (commonly called "Law Lords"), the 12 judges appointed as members of the House of Lords to carry out its judicial business. Its jurisdiction over devolution matters had previously been exercised by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The United Kingdom has a doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, so the Supreme Court is much more limited in its powers of judicial review than the constitutional or supreme courts of some other countries. It cannot overturn any primary legislation made by Parliament.
However, it can overturn secondary legislation if, for example, that legislation is found to be ultra vires to the powers in primary legislation allowing it to be made. Further, under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998, the Supreme Court, like some other courts in the United Kingdom, may make a declaration of incompatibility, indicating that it believes that the legislation subject to the declaration is incompatible with one of the rights in the European Convention on Human Rights.
Such a declaration can apply to primary or secondary legislation. The legislation is not overturned by the declaration, and neither Parliament nor the government is required to agree with any such declaration. However, if they do accept a declaration, ministers can exercise powers under section 10 of the act to amend the legislation by statutory instrument to remove the incompatibility or ask Parliament to amend the legislation.
The creation of a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom was first mooted in a consultation paper published by the Department of Constitutional Affairs in July 2003. Although the paper noted that there had been no criticism of the then-current Law Lords or any indication of an actual bias, it argued that the separation of the judicial functions of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords from the legislative functions of the House of Lords should be made explicit. The paper noted the following concerns:
The main argument against a new Supreme Court was that the previous system had worked well and kept costs down. Reformers expressed concern that this second main example of a mixture of the legislative, judicial and executive might conflict with professed values under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Officials who make or execute laws have an interest in court cases that put those laws to the test. When the state invests judicial authority in those officials or even their day-to-day colleagues, it puts the independence and impartiality of the courts at risk. Consequently, it was hypothesised closely connected decisions of the Law Lords to debates had by friends or on which the Lord Chancellor had expressed a view might be challenged on Human Rights grounds on the basis that they had not constituted a fair trial.
Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, later President of the Supreme Court, expressed fear that the new court could make itself more powerful than the House of Lords committee it succeeded, saying that there is a real risk of "judges arrogating to themselves greater power than they have at the moment". Lord Phillips said such an outcome was "a possibility", but was "unlikely".
The reforms were controversial and were brought forward with little consultation but were subsequently extensively debated in Parliament. During 2004, a select committee of the House of Lords scrutinised the arguments for and against setting up a new court. The Government estimated the set-up cost of the Supreme Court at £56.9 million.
As authorised by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, Part 3, Section 23(1) and s. 23 (whole section), the Supreme Court was formally established on 1 October 2009. It assumed the judicial functions of the House of Lords, which had been exercised by the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (commonly called "Law Lords"), the 12 professional judges appointed as members of the House of Lords to carry out its judicial business. Its jurisdiction over devolution matters had previously been exercised by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.
The first case heard by the Supreme Court was HM Treasury v Ahmed, which concerned "the separation of powers", according to Phillips, its inaugural President. At issue was the extent to which Parliament has, by the United Nations Act 1946, delegated to the executive the power to legislate. Resolution of this issue depended upon the approach properly to be adopted by the court in interpreting legislation which may affect fundamental rights at common law or under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Because of the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, the Supreme Court is much more limited in its powers of judicial review than the constitutional or supreme courts of some other countries. It cannot overturn any primary legislation made by Parliament. However, it can overturn secondary legislation if, for example, that legislation is found to be ultra vires to the powers in primary legislation allowing it to be made. Further, under section 4 of the Human Rights Act 1998, the Supreme Court, like some other courts in the United Kingdom, may make a declaration of incompatibility, indicating that it believes that the legislation subject to the declaration is incompatible with one of the rights in the European Convention on Human Rights. Such a declaration can apply to primary or secondary legislation. The legislation is not overturned by the declaration, and neither Parliament nor the government is required to agree with any such declaration. However, if they do accept a declaration, ministers can exercise powers under section 10 of the act to amend the legislation by statutory instrument to remove the incompatibility or ask Parliament to amend the legislation.
From the Supreme Court —
The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases, and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It hears cases of the greatest public or constitutional importance affecting the whole population.
For Scottish civil cases decided prior to September 2015, permission to appeal from the Court of Session was not required and any such case can proceed to the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom if two Advocates certify that an appeal is suitable. The entry into force of the Courts Reform (Scotland) Act 2014 has essentially brought the procedure for current and future Scottish civil cases into line with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where permission to appeal is required, either from the Court of Appeal or from a Justice of the Supreme Court itself.
The Supreme Court's focus is on cases that raise points of law of general public importance. As with the former Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, appeals from many fields of law are likely to be selected for hearing, including commercial disputes, family matters, judicial review claims against public authorities and issues under the Human Rights Act 1998.
The Supreme Court only exceptionally hears criminal appeals from the High Court of Justiciary with respect to "devolution issues".
The Supreme Court also determines "devolution issues" (as defined by the Scotland Act 1998, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006). These are legal proceedings about the powers of the three devolved administrations—the Northern Ireland Executive and Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, and the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales. Devolution issues were previously heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and most are about compliance with rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, brought into national law by the Devolution Acts and the Human Rights Act 1998.
Ordinarily, all twelve justices do not all hear every case. Typically a case is heard by a panel of five justices, though sometimes the panel may consist of three, seven or nine members. The justices are also members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and spend some of their time in that capacity.
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Prior to 1 October 2009, there were two other courts known as "the supreme court", namely the Supreme Court of England and Wales (known as "the Supreme Court of Judicature", prior to the passing and coming-into-force of the Senior Courts Act 1981), which was created in the 1870s under the Judicature Acts, and the Supreme Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland, both of which consisted of a Court of Appeal, a High Court of Justice and a Crown Court. When the provisions of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 came into force these became known as the Senior Courts of England and Wales and the Court of Judicature of Northern Ireland respectively.
The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council also retains jurisdiction over certain matters. The judicial functions of the House of Lords have all been abolished, other than the trial of impeachments, a procedure which has been obsolete for 200 years.
The court is composed of the President and Deputy President and ten other Judges of the Supreme Court, all with the style of "Justices of the Supreme Court" under section 23(6) of the Constitutional Reform Act. The President and Deputy President of the court are separately appointed to those roles.
The ten Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (Law Lords) holding office on 1 October 2009 became the first judges of the 12-member Supreme Court. The 11th place on the Supreme Court was filled by Lord Clarke (formerly the Master of the Rolls), who was the first Justice to be appointed directly to the Supreme Court. One of the former Law Lords, Lord Neuberger, was appointed to replace Clarke as Master of the Rolls, and so did not move to the new court. Lord Dyson became the 12th and final judge of the Supreme Court on 13 April 2010. In 2010, Queen Elizabeth II granted Justices who are not peers use of the title Lord or Lady, by warrant under the royal sign-manual.
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 makes provision for a new appointment process for Judges of the Supreme Court. A selection commission is to be formed when vacancies arise. This is to be composed of the President and Deputy President of the Supreme Court and a member of the Judicial Appointments Commission of England and Wales, the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission. In October 2007, the Ministry of Justice announced that this appointment process would be adopted on a voluntary basis for appointments of Lords of Appeal in Ordinary.
The commission selects one person for the vacancy and notifies the Lord Chancellor of its choice. The Lord Chancellor then either
If the Lord Chancellor approves the person selected by the commission, the Prime Minister must then recommend that person to the Monarch for appointment.
New judges appointed to the Supreme Court after its creation will not necessarily receive peerages; however, they are given the courtesy title of Lord or Lady upon appointment. The President and Deputy President are appointed to those roles rather than being the most senior by tenure in office.
As of October 2018, there are 11 judges and one vacancy. The judges, in order of seniority, are as follows:
|Prior senior judicial roles|
|The Baroness Hale
|31 January 1945
|Girton College, Cambridge||1 October 2009||31 January 2020||Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (2004–2009)|
Lord Justice of Appeal (1999–2003)
Justice of the High Court, FD (1994–1999)
|7 September 1956
|University of Edinburgh School of Law
Balliol College, Oxford
|6 February 2012||7 September 2026||Senator of the College of Justice:|
Inner House (2008–2012)
Outer House (1998–2008)
|The Lord Kerr
|22 February 1948
|Queen's University Belfast||1 October 2009||22 February 2023||Lord of Appeal in Ordinary (2009)|
Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland (2004–2009)
Justice of the High Court (NI) (1993–2004)
|9 May 1945
|Worcester College, Oxford||26 May 2011||9 May 2020||Lord Justice of Appeal (2005–2011)|
Justice of the High Court, FD (1993–2005)
of Notting Hill
|15 March 1945
|Trinity College, Cambridge||17 April 2012||15 March 2020||Senior President of Tribunals (2007–2012)|
Lord Justice of Appeal (2002–2012)
Justice of the High Court, CD (1994–2002)
|Lord Hodge||19 May 1953
|Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
University of Edinburgh School of Law
|1 October 2013||19 May 2023||Senator of the College of Justice,|
Outer House (2005–2013)
|1 June 1954
|Trevelyan College, Durham||2 October 2017||1 June 2024||Lady Justice of Appeal (2010–2017)|
Justice of the High Court, FD (1999–2010)
|Lord Lloyd-Jones||31 January 1952
|Downing College, Cambridge||2 October 2017||31 January 2022||Lord Justice of Appeal (2012–2017)|
Justice of the High Court, QBD (2005–2012)
|23 December 1954
|Magdalen College, Oxford||2 October 2017||23 December 2024||Lord Justice of Appeal (2013–2017)|
Justice of the High Court, CD (2006–2013)
|23 January 1947
|Girton College, Cambridge
Harvard Law School
|1 October 2018||23 January 2022||Lady Justice of Appeal (2000–2018)|
Justice of the High Court, CD (1993–2000)
|Lord Kitchin||30 April 1955
|Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge||1 October 2018||30 April 2025||Lord Justice of Appeal (2011–2018)|
|Lord Sales||11 February 1962
|Churchill College, Cambridge
Worcester College, Oxford
|11 January 2019||11 February 2032||Lord Justice of Appeal (2014-2018)|
Justice of the High Court, CD (2008-2014)
The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 gave time for a suitable building to be found and fitted out before the Law Lords moved out of the Houses of Parliament, where they had previously used a series of rooms in the Palace of Westminster.
After a lengthy survey of suitable sites, including Somerset House, the Government announced that the new court would be at the Middlesex Guildhall, in Parliament Square, Westminster. That decision was examined by the Constitutional Affairs Committee, and the grant of planning permission by Westminster City Council for refurbishment works was challenged in a judicial review by the conservation group SAVE Britain's Heritage. It was also reported that English Heritage had been put under great pressure to approve the alterations. Feilden + Mawson, supported by Foster & Partners, were the appointed architects.
The official badge of the Supreme Court was granted by the College of Arms in October 2008. It comprises both the Greek letter omega (representing finality) and the symbol of Libra (symbolising the scales of justice), in addition to the four floral emblems of the United Kingdom: a Tudor rose, representing England, conjoined with the leaves of a leek, representing Wales; a flax blossom for Northern Ireland; and a thistle, representing Scotland.
Two adapted versions of its official badge are used by the Supreme Court. One features the words "The Supreme Court" and the letter omega in black (in the official badge granted by the College of Arms, the interior of the Latin and Greek letters are gold and white, respectively), and displays a simplified version of the crown (also in black) and larger, stylised versions of the floral emblems; this modified version of the badge is featured on the new Supreme Court website, as well as in the forms that will be used by the Supreme Court. A further variant omits the crown entirely and is featured prominently throughout the building.
Another emblem is formed from a more abstract set of depictions of the four floral emblems and is used in the carpets of the Middlesex Guildhall designed by Sir Peter Blake, creator of such works as the cover of The Beatles' 1967 album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
For the first time, we have a clear separation of powers between the legislature, the judiciary and the executive in the United Kingdom. This is important. It emphasises the independence of the judiciary, clearly separating those who make the law from those who administer it.
The Government argued that there must be a separation in order to comply with Article Six of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees a fair trial.
The Supreme Courts are made up of the Court of Session, the High Court of Justiciary and the Accountant of Court's Office
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