Editorial: A step forward for the judiciary

 

The creation of the Supreme Court was a radical change to Britain's constitutional arrangements that passed with remarkably little fuss. With its first session in October 2009, the ultimate authority of the judiciary was, for the first time, wholly divorced from all other branches of the state. Over the three years since, the Court has avoided any of the controversies that so easily accrue to a final arbiter and produced a string of finely wrought judgments on everything from asbestosis to enfranchisement rights to "closed" trials.

Now, with three vacancies – including that of the Deputy President – being advertised, the court faces its biggest shake-up so far; and with no other members due for retirement, it might also be the last for several years.

Given the ostensible similarity between the UK Supreme Court and its counterpart in Washington, a sudden rash of new Justices might be expected to excite great political interest. Thankfully, all the signs point the other way. Most obviously, the appointments will not be made by a politician but by a selection commission chaired by Lord Neuberger, the court's President. The British judiciary's largely apolitical heritage – even when the highest court was convened by law lords in Parliament – also militates against it following the over-politicised path beaten by its US equivalent.

The appointments process deserves attention for another reason, however. A Court made up of 11 ageing white men and a single (ageing white) woman is hardly representative of the public. The argument can, of course, be carried too far; skill and experience must always count for more than an arbitrary condition of birth. But there is nonetheless much to be said for decisions drawn from a wider base.

This is no call for discriminatory appointments, even "positive" ones. Removing the Court from Parliament has, however, automatically opened it up to a broader and more varied pool of candidates. For that, too, it should be heartily welcomed.

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