Lady Hale warns Boris Johnson against political appointees to Supreme Court: 'We do not want to turn into the US'

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

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 18 December 2019 17:27 GMT
Lady Hale warns against political appointment of judges

The outgoing president of the Supreme Court has defended the independence of the UK’s highest court, as she issued a warning against politicians being involved in the appointment of judges.

Urging Boris Johnson not to follow a route similar to the Supreme Court of the United States, where the president nominates justices, Lady Hale made the intervention ahead of her retirement from the benches.

In her valedictory remarks, Lady Hale, who delivered the explosive verdict of the Supreme Court that Mr Johnson's suspension of parliament was unlawful, said: “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 appointments.”

Stressing the apolitical nature of the court, she continued: “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.”

As it stands, judges on the UK’s highest court are appointed by the Queen on the advice of the prime minister, who is legally obliged to the decision made by senior judges.

In the immediate aftermath of the unanimous Supreme Court ruling on the prorogation of parliament, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, said there could be time for “parliamentary scrutiny” of judicial appointments.

Just days later he was forced to say the government had no “current plans” to do so, and insisted US-style hearings “would be a regrettable step for us in our constitutional arrangements”.

But the Conservative general election manifesto also made a vague reference to examining the relationship between the government and the courts, raising fears that the power of the Supreme Court could be curbed by the prime minister.

Lady Hale's valedictory - the traditional ceremony for judges upon their retirement - was attended by members of the judiciary and the legal profession, who celebrated her "incredible" and "inspiring" career.

She told those gathered in a courtroom at the Supreme Court: "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."

Lord Reed, who is expected to be the next president of the Supreme Court, cited Lady Hale’s handling of the case on the prime minister’s unlawful prorogation of parliament as her “greatest achievement” in the role.

Lord Reed added that the famous spider brooch which she wore when giving the court's unanimous ruling "has become a symbol of swashbuckling womanhood".

He concluded: "We shall all miss an inspiring pioneer, a distinguished scholar and judge, and a valued friend."

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