The UK Supreme Court: a coda
Two further matters regarding the UK Supreme Court. The first concerns the vacancy for the 12th spot on the Supreme Court. According to the Ministry of Justice, vacancies are filled by a selection commission, comprising of ‘the President and Deputy President of the Supreme Court . . . and members of the appointment bodies for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.’
One of the apparent favourites to fill the recently advertised vacancy is Jonathan Sumption, QC. (Aside: wouldn’t it be neat to write your own Supreme Court vacancy? “Wanted: Supreme Court Justice. Must be steeped in legal learning, have gravitas, and be able to get along with others steeped in legal learning and possessing gravitas. Serious brainpower desirable; advocacy experience a must, judicial experience preferred.”) It is Jonathan Sumption QC’s judicial (in)experience that is causing controversy. There is no doubt he is a top advocate, and he apparently doubles as a medieval historian. Intellectual chops is not the issue. But he has never served as a judge, and his potential elevation to the Supreme Court would have him leapfrog judges of the Court of Appeal (and for that matter, the judges below that court as well). Some Court of Appeal judges have reportedly expressed some displeasure at this.
There seem to be two different arguments here. The first is that one should in a sense pay one’s dues out of respect for those more senior. That doesn’t strike me as a particularly good argument, and I don’t imagine readers enculturated in the US system of judicial appointments would feel differently. The second claim, that it would be useful for even the most gifted legal mind to gain some judicial experience before heading to the Supreme Court, strikes me as the better argument.
And now for the second item concerning the UK Supreme Court: The UKSC Blog has an interesting item on the size and composition of the Court. It appears that the Court may sit in various odd numbered configurations. This seems a little odd to me, although there is certainly historical precedent for this with the House of Lords. I think there is a lot of sense in having the same set of judges on a top court. This avoids questions about A-teams and B-teams, and whether one would have won the case if Justice X had been sitting in place of Justice Y.