It was announced earlier today that the UK Supreme Court is to have a new President. Lord Neuberger – who is presently the Master of the Rolls: the senior judge in the Court of Appeal – will take over as Supreme Court President in October, following the retirement of the current incumbent, Lord Phillips. For some interesting background, take a look at this article on the Guardian website.
It’s worth noting a bigger point, too, about judicial appointments – and judges – in the UK. When senior judges are appointed in some other countries, it is regarded as a big deal – not just in legal circles, but in wider public discourse. The USA is a case in point. The video below is an excerpt from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for John Roberts, the current Chief Justice of the United States. During his hearing, he was asked about his position on a range of social issues, including gay marriage and abortion. Lord Neuberger, in contrast, will not be grilled on such matters.
Why the difference? US Supreme Court judges have the power to strike down legislation on the ground that it is inconsistent with the Constitution. British judges do not. And since the US Constitution – like most constitutions – does not specifically address issues such as abortion and gay marriage, much comes down to how the Supreme Court Justices interpret the Constitution. And how they interpret the Constitution is inevitably influenced, to some extent, by their social, moral and political outlook. What that outlook is therefore clearly matters – and so people want to know about it prior to the judge being appointed.
In the UK, our judges do not have the same degree of power. But the powers they exercise today – in particular as a result of the Human Rights Act – are greater, and more akin to those wielded by US judges, than in the past. Perhaps, then, the British public should take a greater interest in who their judges are?