Even Lord Neuberger thinks EU cases are boring

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By Katie King on

The hearings are “unexciting to the point of being soporifically leaden”


EU law has been taking quite a hammering in the newspapers in recent months, and now even the country’s top judge has taken a swipe.

Lord Neuberger — president and ‘celebrity’ of the Supreme Court bench — thinks EU court hearings are “unexciting to the point of being soporifically leaden”, and we’re sure he’s heard some pretty boring cases in his time. No wonder EU law is one of students’ nightmare exam subjects.

The Oxford-educated judge, addressing the Independent Council of Advocates and Barristers in Edinburgh, made his comments when recounting a visit to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. He told the audience that he had watched a hearing in the morning, and he remembered:

[E]ach party had 20 minutes to put its case, and was listened to in silence, after which the judges put, I think, one question, which was not really answered by the advocate to whom it was addressed. At lunch, the [European] judges asked me for my impression of the hearings, and I made one or two points, basically suggesting that the hearings had been unexciting to the point of being soporifically leaden.

The judges, he recalled, were shocked and amused when he asked whether they found it frustrating and boring to listen to advocates without being able to ask them questions. He continued:

The amused judges thought that we British judges talked too much, and implied we should learn the virtue of silence. The shocked judges considered it to be judicial solecism for a judge to interrupt an advocate, and that we British judges should not be even contemplating it.

But that wasn’t all from Lord Neuberger. He also took this lunchtime opportunity to big up UK advocates at the expense of their European counterparts.

He was surprised — he explained — that the advocates showed “no spontaneity”, and did not even “attempt to engage with the court”, with which his lunchtime company “rather mournfully agreed”. He continued:

One of them then said that the advocates from the British Isles were consistently and easily the best oral makers of submissions in the Luxembourg court, a proposition to which the other judges all agreed. I could not resist replying with a rhetorical question: do you not think that the British advocates are the best because they are the only ones who are constantly being challenged and quizzed by the judges before whom they appear?