News In Focus
Supreme Court annual report highlights effect of Brexit appeal
The appeal to the UK Supreme Court over whether the Government could trigger the Brexit process without parliamentary approval was a "truly exceptional" case that "has helped to draw attention to the work of the court and... underline the court's place in the constitution", according to the court's newly published annual report for the year to 31 March 2017.
Writing his last foreword before he retires this summer, the President, Lord Neuberger, describes how the court was "able to hear [the case] in relatively short order, to accommodate an unprecedented number of legal teams, to provide extensive overflow viewing facilities for members of the public as well as seats in court, and to deliver judgment by the end of January".
The case was the only one to date in which all the Justices of the court sat to hear the appeal, and was followed live by thousands of people round the country as the four day hearing was transmitted. The report reveals some of the logistical challenges involved in hearing the appeal, and the fact that the judgment has been downloaded more than 35,000 times from the Supreme Court website.
The profile of the case "[propelled] the institution into the public consciousness to an extent not seen previously", and was a contributory factor in online visitors increasing by 72% against the previous year, totalling a record of over one million virtual visitors in the year ending 31 March 2017, the report states.
It also highlights the ground work for the court's historic first sitting outside London, which took place this month in Edinburgh, and investment in videoconferencing equipment to allow parties appearing before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to do so remotely in appropriate cases.
During the year the Supreme Court heard 91 appeals, compared with 92 in 2015-16, and delivered 76 judgments compared with 81 the year before.
Analysis of the judgments shows more decisions relating to immigration and to statutory interpretation (up from two to seven and nil to four judgments respectively against 2015-16), while the number of cases related to human rights and tax both decreased (from nine to four and seven to three respectively).
Despite the article 50 appeal, over the year the court sat slightly fewer times as a panel of more than five Justices, having done so in 12% of appeals during 2016-17 as compared with 14% during 2015-16 (which was a record for the court).
The number of applications for permission to appeal also decreased (by 11% to 192). There was a marked decrease in requests in criminal matters (from 19 in 2015/16 to 5 this year), and also a decline in family law and immigration law, but an increase in contract law matters. The "grant rate" of cases given permission to appeal increased to 35% from 32% the year before.
As the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the court heard two more appeals during 2016-17 than the previous year (47 compared to 45), though gave fewer judgments (38 compared to 48). There was a considerable increase in cases being brought from the committee's various overseas jurisdictions, with 60 applications for permission to appeal received, up from 48.
The court's net operating cost (which excludes changes to the valuation of its building) increased slightly to £4.8m from £4.5m. It spent £12.5m, almost half of which was judicial and staff costs, and recouped almost £8m in court fees, contributions from the UK court services, and other income.
Click here to view the full report and accounts.