Judges come and go

Lord Norton

PICT0097This 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.

14 comments for “Judges come and go

  1. Frank W. Summers III
    01/10/2009 at 6:49 pm

    Lord Norton,
    In our country of the USA we are free to be sued or harassed if we get a religious twings in public according to some interpreters of freedom of religion.

    Despite that in Louisiana we still have a Red Mass at several sites to comemorate the start of the Judicial season. Increasingly funding and acoutrements must be kept simon pure of any governmnet funds but the Pre-USA custom survives and means a lot. I have known judges and lawyers who were not Catholic or Christian who attended the voluntary service out of a kind of goodwill increasingly rare. For many old Roman Catholic families it is a source of goodwill, pride and compensation that goes a good ways. Nonetheless, I suspect people do pray, fairly sure in fact that some do. I have not yet revealed the fullness of my wildly religious side but I would be disappointed if you feel sure nobody has actualy prayed since the Middle ages there. Is that what you suggest?

  2. 01/10/2009 at 8:17 pm

    It seems very strange to me that this body is called The Supreme Court when the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has made very public that It is the Supreme Court.

    Is this some sort of strange farce being enacted to keep us “little people” content that all is well, when in reality almost all real power has been handed over to the unelected, unaccountable European Commission? But then what do us “little people” really know about these things?

    Declaration 27, attached to The Lisbon Treaty, states.

    27. Declaration concerning primacy
    The Conference recalls that, in accordance with well settled case law of the EU Court of Justice, the Treaties and the law adopted by the Union on the basis of the Treaties have primacy over the law of Member States, under the conditions laid down by the said case law.

    • Adrian Kidney
      02/10/2009 at 8:56 am

      ..and you’re completely ignoring the fact that this is the basis of EU law since Britain joined in 1973. It’s not new.

      The ECJ is Supreme in that it has superior jurisdiction as a final court of appeal in those areas which are within the EU’s competence.

      Dispense with the conspiracy theories.

    02/10/2009 at 1:40 am

    Frank, I don’t think anything in what he wrote indicates that Lord Norton believes that no one has prayed for Guidance in the service since the Middle Ages, and believe you are simply misreading his statement. All he said was that this is a practice which dated back to the Middle Ages. This only means that the High Court began this in the Middle Ages, and their reason was to ask for guidance from God in their task.

    I do believe you will find those who still pray at the service.

    What I am more troubled by is the attempt to rewrite all of the UK’s government to look increasingly like the Republican model we see growing more and more common, based on the Republican models of the American Revolution.

    I know that as an American ( I also live in Tennessee) it may seem odd but I love my British Heritage, and do think that the American form of Government is far from the perfection it is presented as these days. I don’t think the Supreme Court needed to be created, and don’t like the idea of the Lords becoming an elected senate, and don’t think the solution to all our problems is more Democracy, let alone more “Secular” Democracy.

    These rampant changes to the British Government, as well as to the culture, haven’t exactly helped anything, and whenever the problems emerge they invariably blame it on he old structures still in existence and act as if yet more change will solve the problem, and in turn this makes more problems which need more solutions by following the same path, which thusfar hasn’t worked.

    I do wonder why they think they needed a Supreme Court when we already had a High Court, and also believe that its just a case of thinking this is the “Modern” way; basically its just following the trends and changing for the sake of being in style.

  4. Adrian Kidney
    02/10/2009 at 8:58 am

    Lord Norton, I have tried to find out what oath the new Supreme Court judges make – do you know where it can be found?

    • lordnorton
      02/10/2009 at 9:55 am

      Adrian Kidney: Section 32 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 stipulates that the Justices take the oath of allegiance and the judicial oath (both as set out in the Promissory Oaths Act 1868).

  5. Bedd Gelert
    02/10/2009 at 1:52 pm

    Totally off-topic but I wonder if Baroness Murphy or yourself has a comment or an opinion on this article ??


    I don’t especially have a view either way, but it seems perverse that doctors are now in a legal limbo-land where they are not so much ‘damned if you do..’ but ‘sued if you do, sued if you don’t’.

    Maybe the law is being mis-applied and that the ‘Supreme Court’ will throw out some of these cases. But I do wonder if Pandora’s Box is now open, or whether this is just spin by a vested interest ?

  6. Bedd Gelert
    02/10/2009 at 2:02 pm

    Sorry, I should have included this in earlier post, but it was tricky to find on the website.


    On-topic, the Telegraph has a view about the new Supreme Court.


    What I do find hilarious is people imagining that the British Supreme Court will excite people’s interest in the same way that the US Supreme Court does, when in actual fact no one will give two hoots about who sits on it.

    And since the ‘supreme court’ in Britain is actually located on the European mainland it is in any case a bit of a misnomer.

    The US Supreme Court is the ‘highest court in the land’ in a way the British one palpably is not.

    • Croft
      02/10/2009 at 4:14 pm


      The more obvious difference is that American SC judges are selected by the executive and confirmed by legislative branch. the UK Court is made up of judges who are selected by a quango.

  7. 02/10/2009 at 2:27 pm

    The ECJ is Supreme in that it has superior jurisdiction as a final court of appeal in those areas which are within the EU’s competence.

    The change since 1973 is that the EU now has competences or power over almost all major areas of law making, leaving very little real law making power for the Westminster government.

    This isn’t a conspiracy. It is there for all to read. The intention to form a supra-national government is laid out in the very lengthy and convoluted treaties and declarations.

    • Bedd Gelert
      02/10/2009 at 5:13 pm

      On this point there is a rather wonderful Matt cartoon in today’s Telegraph about the ‘vote’ on the Lisbon Treaty in Ireland.

      As the old anarchists used to say, “If voting changed anything, they’d abolish it..”

    02/10/2009 at 7:32 pm

    Alfred, thats why I think the UK should leave the EU. I also think we should form a stronger Union with the Commonwealth states (Which should never have been allowed to deteriorate) with the goal of creating a Confederation between the Commonwealth states, like what the EU promised to be but which isn’t.

    Yes this is more wishful thinking on my part. Why, its just not part of our modern political climate to think of that vestige of empire at all, and to think we need merger with Europe instead…

    Ah well… bring on the United States of Europe…

  9. Kyle Mulholland
    04/10/2009 at 7:02 pm

    It’s about time Britain left the EU. Have the Tories lost their marbles? They want to keep us in the EU and they have no intention of getting rid of this republicanized ‘Supreme Court’, a horrid beast as it is.

  10. lordnorton
    06/10/2009 at 4:49 pm

    Thanks for the comments.

    Frank W. Summers III: As Zarove correctly notes, my post was not meant to suggest judges no longer prayed. Services at Westminster Abbey are still religious!

    The other comments essentially focus on two points (change from Lords to Supreme Court, and supremacy of European law), though both relate to nomenclature. The title of the new court is misleading. I can see Alfred’s point that it may be deemed misleading given that EU law takes precedence over domestic law. That, though, applies where the EU has competence. There remain sectors where UK law remains supreme. I think the greater confusion arises where people assume that the new court will be similar to the Supreme Court of the USA. When Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers was Lord Chief Justice and appeared before the Constitution Committee in the Lords, he basically conceded this point. Formally, the principal change is a physical one. Some argue that there may be a psychological change, with the judges being more willing to challenge the executive. My fear is that it may work the other way round. However, what has not happened has been a transfer of powers to the new court. It is the same people as before fulfilling the same duties as before – just in a nice new building.

    I suspect this confusion will continue for some time. Even the media are not well informed on the subject. On the ‘News Quiz’ on Radio 4 last week, it was claimed that one of the Justices of the Supreme Court was the crossbench peer and QC, Lord Pannick (he isn’t) and that the new black and gold robes replaced britches and full-bottomed wigs (they don’t). I remain of the view that the change was unnecessary and delivers few benefits and may indeed prove detrimental.

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