Supreme court president makes first appearance since Article 50 ruling
On Monday night the President of the Supreme Court made his first public appearance since the “Article 50 Case” ruling at Southampton University.
Monday night saw a sell out event organised by students James Edwards and Ben Tangney alongside staff from the Law School. Lord Neuberger, the top judge in the country, was interviewed by Professor Peter Sparkes and answered questions from students and staff. The topics raised during the event spanned a wide range of areas, including assisted dying, press censorship, diversity in law and of course the recent high profile Miller “Brexit” case.
Who is Lord Neuberger?
Lord Neuberger is the President of the Supreme Court, this means he is the most senior judge in the country. As such, he sits on the most important cases to come before a court, including those that look at how Ministers can act and whether people have a right to end their own lives. He has been a judge since 1996 and became President of the Supreme Court in 2012.
The Miller case, whose judgement only came out last week was, a hot topic during the night. This was the case where the Supreme Court had to decide if it was down to Theresa May and her Government or Parliament as a whole to start the process of leaving the EU.
Lord Neuberger was keen to reassure the audience that the case was not a political debate for the courts but rather a matter of law, he clarified it by stating the courts cannot be ‘treading into the political area’. This was rather important for him given the furore around the case and the repercussions it would have in the political world. Miller was also used in order to shed light on how the relationship between the courts and Parliament works. Lord Neuberger stated ‘what we say is the law… until Parliament overrules it’, illustrating how important it is that the democratically elected Parliament have the final word on the law.
Lord Neuberger suggested reading Lord Hughes’ judgment on the Supreme Court website for anyone who wanted to learn more about the Article 50 Miller case. This gives a concise synopsis of the issues raised in the case.
Diversity within the law is another key issue that was raised during the night’s event. When one member of the audience asked whether enough was being done, Lord Neuberger admitted there was a lot of work to do with all bar one of the Supreme Court judges being white men, and only one woman, Lady Hale, is on the bench. This has led to a “perception problem” which needs to be addressed. For this Lord Neuberger has suggested being more proactive in inspiring women and youngsters from ethnic minority backgrounds to not be afraid of aiming for the top jobs, but insists that it cannot happen overnight.
The night was also a chance for students to really understand what is like to be a Supreme Court judge. Lord Neuberger said how sometimes it can be really tough to give a verdict on a case when your moral code and the law clash, especially when there are vulnerable people and children involved. From his speech it appeared that humility is also so important, if someone challenges your judgement you have to be able to put aside your ego and look at what is best for the law and for the people.