Lady Hale warns against the UK adopting a US-style Supreme Court

Lady Hale delivering the Parliament Suspension decision
Lady Hale gained public notoriety when she ruled on the prorogation of Parliament wearing a big spider brooch.

Outgoing Supreme Court President Lady Hale has warned against politicians choosing the UK’s top judges in a speech marking her retirement.

She advised against adopting a US-style approach “whether in powers or in process of appointment”.

The Conservatives have pledged to review the “relationship between the government, Parliament and the courts”.

Lady Hale gained public notoriety when she ruled on the prorogation of Parliament wearing a big spider brooch.

She will officially retire from her post when she turns 75 next month – the mandatory retirement age for judges appointed before 1995.

It comes as Downing Street said the government’s Brexit bill will enable more British judges to depart from previous rulings of the EU’s top court.

In her final speech in the role, Lady Hale said: “We (Supreme Court justices) do not know one another’s political opinions – although occasionally we may have a good guess – and long may that remain so.

“Judges have not been appointed for party political reasons in this country since at least the Second World War.

“We do not want to turn into the Supreme Court of the United States – whether in powers or in process of appointment.”

UK Supreme Court judges are appointed on legal experts’ advice, whereas in the US the President can nominate them.

In September, the Supreme Court ruled that Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend Parliament for five weeks was unlawful.

Lady Hale delivered that ruling, saying the unanimous decision of the 11 justices meant Parliament had effectively not been prorogued, triggering the resumption of Parliamentary business the following day.

In response, attorney-general Geoffrey Cox QC told MPs in the Commons there could come a time for “parliamentary scrutiny” of senior judicial appointments.

However, just days later he said that US-style hearings “would be a regrettable step for us in our constitutional arrangements.”

During the election, however, the Conservative Party pledged to review the UK’s unwritten constitution.

In its manifesto, it said: “After Brexit we also need to look at the broader aspects of our constitution: the relationship between the government, Parliament and the courts; the functioning of the royal prerogative; the role of the House of Lords; and access to justice for ordinary people.”

Lady Hale – who was born Brenda Hale, and is widely known as Judge Brenda – became the Supreme Court’s first female president when she was appointed in 2017.

Signing off, she joked that you had to feel sorry for the male institutions which had had to adjust.

“If Judge Brenda has inspired a younger generation to believe in the ideals of justice, fairness and equality, and to think that they might put them into practice, Judge Brenda will retire content”, she said.

Lord Reed will replace her in January.

Also speaking at the ceremony, he praised her for her handling of the prorogation hearing, calling it “her greatest achievement”, with a ruling which would be “of lasting importance”.

And he suggested that the spider brooch she wore when delivering the verdict had become “a symbol of swashbuckling womanhood”.

She is “an inspiration to women, and especially to women lawyers”, he said, adding that he would miss “an inspiring pioneer, a distinguished scholar and judge, and a valued friend.”


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