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Court opens gilded doors

After six years of planning The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has opened its doors.

user iconThe New Lawyer 13 October 2009 The Bar
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AFTER six years of planning The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom has opened its doors. 

The landmark opening of the court will mean a new era for the British publics, who will now be able to see justice first hand and, in a first for any court in England and Wales, watch cases broadcast on television, reports The Times. 


Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, its first president, said: “The object is to give formal effect to an important constitutional principle — the separation of powers, by transferring the function of the [highest] court from technically being a function carried out by Parliament to a function carried out by a court of judges.” 

Until now, the highest court was a committee of the House of Lords known as the law lords. They were hidden from public view in the depths of the Palace of Westminster and the public scarcely knew they existed. 

From the beginning, the court has been dogged by questions about its role and plagued by fighting over its location — even down to its address and postcode. The original advocate for the court was Tony Blair, then Prime Minister, however, despite original controversy. 

It is “now accepted on all sides”, Lord Phillips said. “The process by which the decision was reached has never been made public but it was not a process of wide consultation.” 

Enhanced visibility will mean greater public scrutiny, not just of judgments, but of the judges themselves and their selection process. 

But above all, many believe that giving the top court its own building and identity will do more than make it visible, they believe that over time, it will subtly alter the balance of power between judges and ministers, in favour of the former.

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