chapter 7 the supreme court

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the role and composition of the supreme court

  • UK judiciary does not exist as a single body
  • Scotland and Northern Ireland operate under different legal arrangements from those in place in England and Wales
  • one feature common to all 3 is the part played by the UK Supreme Court
  • acts as the highest court of appeal from the Court of Appeal in England and Wales, the Court of Sessions in Scotland and the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland

the origins and functions of the supreme court

why was the UK Supreme Court established?

  • October 2009- UK Supreme Court began its work
  • before this the highest court of appeal in the UK comprised the 12 Law Lords who sat in the Appellate Committee of the HoL
  • Constitutional Reform Act 2005- established Supreme Court in response to a number of outstanding concerns
  • concerns over the incomplete separation of powers present in the UK system; position of the Lord chancellor and the presence of the Law Lords in the upper chamber of the legislature
  • criticisms of the opaque system under which senior judges were appointed
  • confusion over the work of the Law Lords- widespread failure to understand the distinction between the HoL executive and judicial functions

what functions does the Supreme Court perform?

  • took on most of the judicial roles previously performed by the Law Lords
  • act as the final court of appeal in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland
  • hear appeals from civil cases in Scotland
  • clarify the meaning of the law by hearing appeals in cases where there is uncertainty

the appointments process and the composition of the court

how are Supreme Court justices appointed?

  • appointments to all positions in the senior judiciary were traditionally made by the monarch on the advice of the PM and the Lord chancellor
  • Lord chancellor would consult existing senior judges- process known as secret soundings
  • system lacked transparency, undermined the separation of powers, resulted in a senior judiciary drawn almost exclusively from a very narrow social circle
  • public schools and oxbridge educated, white, male and beyond middle age
  • founding justices- those working Law Lords in post on 1 October 2009
  • remained members of the HoL, barred from sitting and voting in the upper chamber for as long as they remained justices of the new Supreme Court
  • those appointed to the court after 1 october 2009 are not automatically awarded peerages
  • candidates must have held high judicial office for at least 2 years or been a qualifying practitioner for a period of 15 years
  • vacancies are filled by an ad hoc selection commission
  • Judicial Appointments Commission deals with all other appointments to the Senior Judiciary
  • 5 members ad hoc commission should comprise the President of the Supreme Court, the deputy President of the Supreme Court; one member of the JAC, one member of the Judicial Appointments Board for Scotland, one member of the Northern Ireland Judicial Appointments Commission
  • appointments procedure still involves a government minister
  • input is greatly reduced- not permitted to repeatedly reject names put…

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