Supreme Court on tour: Lord Neuberger wants justices to hear appeals in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast

Apparently “steps are being taken to achieve this”

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Lord Neuberger has given a big thumbs up to a Supreme Court road trip, revealing he’d like to escape the London smoke and hear appeals elsewhere in the country.

The top judge, speaking at the Bar Council’s Law Reform Lecture, said there is “a real risk” the public perceive the bench as “orientated to England”, even “London-focussed”. To alter this perception, president of the Supreme Court Neuberger has said he’d like to head north to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, continuing:

Ideally, we would sit, say, in Edinburgh and hear not just one Scottish case, but also an English, Welsh or Northern Irish case in order to remind people that we are a UK court. When I mentioned this to some English lawyers, they expressed doubts about having to travel from London to Edinburgh — or Cardiff or Belfast. ‘But that is the equivalent of what Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish lawyers appearing in the Supreme Court have to do all the time’, I replied.

Lucky for Neuberger, his Supreme Court on tour wishes are not just a pipe dream. He added:

I am sorry to say that the Supreme Court has not so far sat outside London, but glad to say that the judiciary and politicians based in those capital cities have made it clear that we would be welcome to do so, and steps are being taken to achieve this.

Rumours the court has recently purchased a camper van to facilitate these trips are as yet unconfirmed.

Other highlights from the judge’s jam-packed speech, ‘The Role of the Supreme Court Seven Years On — Lessons Learnt’, include his candid confession that even he had “mixed feelings” when he found out the House of Lords’ judicial function was to be swept aside and replaced by the Supreme Court. The Oxford-educated justice admitted:

While appreciating the value of a separate court with its own building, I was concerned that it involved considerable capital expenditure and substantially increased running costs which the courts system could ill afford, and was only claimed to be justified on theoretical than practical considerations.

That said, he now thinks the move has generally been “very positive”.

The grand finale of his speech was dedicated to the future of the Supreme Court bench, which is due a makeover in the next few years thanks to a swathe of upcoming retirements, including Neuberger’s. His Lordship revealed he’s already told the Lord Chancellor he’ll be leaving at the end of next summer, about six months before his statutory retirement date (January 2018). Buddy Lord Clarke will be stepping down from the bench at the same time, again well before his May 2018 statutory retirement date.

Neuberger revealed the court and the independent selection commission will be introducing a number of measures during the judicial recruitment process such as “insight sessions”, which sound a bit like vac schemes for prospective Supreme Court benchers (tours of the building, meetings with justices, time in court observing proceedings, etc). It’s hoped this will encourage applications from the widest possible pool of candidates, giving the Supreme Court a chance to shake off its “marked lack of diversity”.

Read the full speech below: