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Neuberger defends judges' role as Supreme Court seeks new members

16 February 2017

Unjustified media attacks on the judiciary undermine the rule of law, the President of the UK Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, said today.

Lord Neuberger was speaking as the court begins the selection process to fill the vacancies caused by the retirement of Lord Toulson last summer, and the pending retirements of Lord Clarke and Lord Neuberger himself. All three were appointed from the England & Wales jurisdiction.

Asked on BBC radio about media coverage of the legal challenge over the Government's powers to begin the formal Brexit process without parliamentary legislation, Lord Neuberger replied that the judges "were certainly not well treated". While acknowledging that judges' view of life was "very different from that of the media", he added: "I think some of what was said was undermining the rule of law."

The President did not refer directly to any particular comments, but after the High Court ruling against the Government, the Daily Mail branded the judges cncerned "Enemies of the people". The Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss, was criticised for speaking out in defence of the rule of law.

Lord Neuberger observed: "The rule of law together with democracy is one of the two pillars on which our society is based. And therefore if, without good reason, the media or anyone else undermines the judiciary that risks undermining our society."

Politicians "could have been quicker and clearer" to defend the judiciary and the rule of law after the initial ruling, but had learned from the experience and "were certainly vocal enough quickly enough" after the Supreme Court affirmed the High Court's ruling.

The three new Justices will be chosen by a process overseen by an independent selection commission, convened by the Lord Chancellor under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 and the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and chaired by Lord Neuberger. A dedicated section of the Supreme Court website has been set up to promote the vacancies and explain the selection process. 

A separate commission, chaired by crossbench peer Lord Kakkar, will recommend the new President, who may be appointed from within the court.

It is hoped that the unprecedented number of vacancies on court arising at the same time will improve the diversity of the bench, which currntly has only one woman member and no ethnic minority Justice. Steps already announced to encourage a diverse range of eligible applicants include the launch of "insight sessions" to give potential candidates an opportunity to make a private visit to the court and discuss the role with a serving Justice, and ensuring that the application material makes clear the availability of part-time working for new Justices.

Applications close on 10 March 2017. Once shortlisting, interviews and the required consultation exercises have taken place, it is expected that the names of those appointed will be announced by July, with the new appointees taking up office at the beginning of the new legal year in October 2017.


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