The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom (UKSC) is the highest court in the country’s judicial system as well as the final court of appeal for all civil and criminal cases (with the exception of Scotland, where the High Court of Justiciary reigns supreme).
UKSC was established on 1 October 2009 as part of several wide ranging measures to create a separation of powers between the judiciary and legislative branches of the government. Prior to its establishment, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords was the nation’s final court of appeal, courtesy of the 1876 Appellate Jurisdiction Act.
The newly renovated Middlesex Guildhall became UKSC’s home, and empowered by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 (CRA), the Lords of Appeal from the House were sworn in as the new Justices of UKSC (with the exception of Lord Scott of Foscote and Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, who chose to retire).
UK Supreme Court at Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square, London. Image courtesy of Christine Smith.
In addition, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), which is the final court of appeal for Commonwealth nations (such as Brunei, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica) and British territories and dependencies (such as Isle of Man, Gibraltar, Channel Islands, Falkland Islands, etc.) were also merged with UKSC in April 2011.
Broadly, UKSC has similar jurisdiction to the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords and Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, with one addendum – UKSC also have jurisdiction over devolution cases involving devolved administrations in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.
As a point of note, appeal cases presided by UKSC’s Justices are limited to cases escalated from the appeals court of the Courts of England and Wales, Courts of Scotland, and Courts of Northern Ireland which have been granted permission to appeal (PTA) or equivalent. Since UKSC only deliberates on cases arguing points of law of national importance, only about 30% of PTAs are granted.
As stipulated in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Supreme Court will have 12 Justices to preside over cases. This includes the President and Deputy President of the Supreme Court. Appointments of Justices are made by the Queen based on the recommendation of the Prime Minister, who in turn, will be advised by a special selection commission comprising of UKSC’s President and Deputy President, and one member each from the Judicial Appointment Commissions of the country’s three court systems. However, the commission’s recommendation must be accepted by the Lord Chancellor. Otherwise, a new search must be made.
Justices do not necessarily need to have direct judicial experience. However, they must have right of audience of at least fifteen years in one of the higher courts in the country. However, considering the complexity of the cases handled by UKSC, the candidate will need to be someone who has exceptional understanding, both practical and theoretical, of the country’s laws.
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