This morning, the new Justices of the Supreme Court were sworn in at the Supreme Court building (formerly Middlesex Guildhall) in Parliament Square. Shortly afterwards, they were back in the Palace of Westminster.
To mark the start of the legal year, judges attend a service in Westminster Abbey and then process across to the Palace of Westminster for a reception hosted by the Lord Chancellor. The practice dates from the Middle Ages when the High Court met in Westminster Hall and judges went to the Abbey to pray for guidance at the start of the legal term.
The service was held today and, as I was in Westminster, I had a bird’s eye view of the procession from my office. Abingdon Street was closed off. It was a long procession, headed by the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw, and the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge. Jack Straw has taken to wearing the Lord Chancellor’s robes like a duck to water. They were followed by the newly-sworn Justices in their new black-and-gold robes, headed by the President, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, and the Deputy President, Lord Hope of Craighead.
It was a long procession as it included judges from England and Wales as well as QCs, senior judicial officers, and judges and lawyers from overseas. One could do with the equivalent of The Book of English Birds for judges. Each category of judge has a distinctive dress, so it was a colourful display, one procession of judges with their distinctive plumage (such as black and gold) being followed by another (black and purple, for example).
In the old days, it was a straightforward task of walking straight across the road from the Abbey into St Stephen’s Entrance to the Palace. Nowadays, it is a little more like a motor-racing circuit, as the judges have to navigate the corus barriers to get to the entrance. For the State Opening of Parliament, and Her Majesty’s arrival, the barriers are removed. For Her Majesty’s Judges walking across the road, they are left in place.
Only eleven Justices were sworn in at the Supreme Court this morning. There is a vacancy because Lord Neuberger declined to transfer to the new court. Some of those who did take the oath were not supporters of the move. It will be interesting to see how the court develops. The case for the change was essentially on cosmetic grounds – a re-branding of the court – though, as I have argued before, it may have unintended consequences. We shall see.
Details of the Lord Chancellor’s reception – traditionally styled the Lord Chancellor’s breakfast – can be found here. Information on the Supreme Court building, including a look at the new meeting room, can be found here.