New appointments to the UK Supreme Court this October

Following the announcement by the current President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, of his retirement in the summer and the vacancies caused by the retirements of Lord Toulson (last September) and Lord Clarke (also this summer), applications are being sought for the appointment of a new President and two, possibly three, Justices. The process closed on 10 March and a short list of candidates is due in late April with interviews in early May.  We expect that appointments will take effect on 2 October 2017.

The withdrawal of the UK from the EU makes this a particularly important time at which to lead the Court as President or to be appointed a Justice. Key attributes of those selected will include outstanding intellect, legal ability, social awareness, understanding the impact of law on society, together with an appreciation of the developing nature of the constitution and law in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Reference to flexible working arrangements has been included in the application information pack for the first time.

There is no lower age limit for these appointments, but a Justice of the Supreme Court is required to vacate office at the age of 70. The expectation that appointed Justices will serve for at least four years would appear to exclude the well-respected Lady Justice Hallett and Lord Justice Leveson, both of whom will be 68 later this year. In an earlier blog we identified younger possible candidates in the Court of Appeal, including: Lady Justice Sharp, Lord Justice Sales, Lord Justice Ryder, Lord Justice Fulford, Lord Justice Burnett and Sir Terence Etherton MR.

The ‘information pack’ for prospective candidates included a table setting out 32 subjects areas covering the Supreme Court’s 215 decisions on permission to appeal during 2015/16. These ranged from banking to wills and from crime to tax. Only 84 of the 215 applications were granted, with 14 judicial review cases accounting for the greatest number of those and immigration a close second at 12. Only 2 insurance cases were granted permission and no costs or personal injury cases were accepted.

Back in November 2015, the influential Lady Hale – currently Deputy President and rumoured to be a strong candidate to take over from Lord Neuberger – said: “If we do not manage to achieve a (much) more diverse Court in the process of filling them we ought to be ashamed of ourselves.” Since her appointment in 2004 all the Justices selected for the UK’s highest court have been male, white and predominantly privately-educated. Will there be changes to the Supreme Court bench this October that go some way to meeting Lady Hale’s concerns about diversity? We shall have to wait and see, but as ever we shall keep you fully informed.

Written by Jeff Mitchell

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