Lord Toulson retires today as Supreme Court drops down to 11 judges

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Temporary 12th justice to come from rolling roster


One of the top judges in the country, Lord Toulson, will be hanging up his robes and retiring from the Supreme Court today.

Roger Toulson has served as a Supreme Court justice since April 2013, and has used his experience as former chairman of the Law Commission to shape the common law for the past three years.

So who will be tasked with filling the Toulson-shaped hole left in the prestigious bench?

Well, for now, no one. Instead, a bank of top judges — known as a ‘supplementary panel’ — will be set up; these judicial bigwigs can sit on an ad hoc basis in the country’s highest appeal court.

Named on this rotating roster is former Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, Scottish judges Lords Gill and Hamilton, and none other than Toulson himself.

So while Toulson won’t be waving goodbye to all his Supreme Court duties just yet, he still thought it fitting to celebrate his official retirement with a tell-all interview about his time alongside Lady Hale and co.

It actually made for pretty interesting reading. Over at Legal Cheek we were surprised by a few of the things we learned about the Cambridge-educated judge and former commercial barrister. Did you know he broke his school’s record for running a mile, or that he — and we quote — is “hopeless” at tying up his shoelaces?

Weightier reflections for the judicial maestro — who completed his O-levels (now GCSEs) aged 13 and his A-levels at 15 — include his dispirited views on criminal justice. He explained:

I think some aspects of our criminal legal system are rather awful. I am concerned about the size of the prison population. I also have serious concerns about access to justice.

His most memorable Supreme Court case, he said, is Jogee, the criminal law case that changed the doctrine of joint enterprise and sparked undergraduate law syllabus reform.

He will be missed, though it’s not just Toulson that will be retiring from the Supreme Court in the near future. There is a wave of statutory retirement dates coming up in the next few years.

Lord Neuberger’s is in January 2018, soon followed by Lords Clarke (May) and Mance (June). In August, Lord Hughes is due to retire, and then Lord Sumption in December.

It’s for this reason the Supreme Court has decided not to fill Toulson’s space immediately, so recruitment for all these vacancies can be grouped together.

Though Neuberger and friends’ aren’t due to retire for another year and a half, talk has already turned to who is going to replace these judicial VIPs.

Honorary QC and top legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg has already put his stake in the ground: he reckons the likes of Lord Justices Vos, Sales and Ryder and Lady Justices Sharp and Hallett could all be in for a promotion.



I believe Lord Harley is looking for a new job…



He IS the Supreme Court


Quo Vadis

He is ‘concerned about the size of the prison population’. Does he want it to increase, or decrease? If the former, I commend him on his good judgement. If the latter, I would ask him whether it is right to condemn communities (much less wealthy than his own, no doubt) to the endless crime and disorder caused by those who properly ought to be locked up in jail. ‘Access to justice’ doesn’t just mean stuffing the pockets of legal aid lawyers. Real justice comes when victims of crime are treated properly by the police, offered proper representation in court, and finally, when in court, can see their attackers sentenced fully for their crimes.


Boh Dear

My grandfather used to say “Shoot ’em and let God sort ’em out” until one day he put this theory into practice. It took 75 federal marshals to bring him down.



Increasing the size of the prison population doesn’t make society safer. The US is evidence of that.

I think (hope) he means ensuing that prison is used proportionality, and appropriately for the offences that justify it.

The incarceration of drug users, for example, (not supplies, users), is completely counter productive. It places them in institutions unsuitable for their needs, and further cements the circle of relapse, reinforcing maladaptive behaviour patterns.

We need to be more insightful and, dare I say it, creative about how we sentence people. Prison should always be a last resort.


Quo Vadis

The United States is only evidence of the fact that warehousing millions of prisoners in savage and dehumanising conditions cannot ever be a substitute for a humane and properly organised prison system. The United States is, after all, a country where prison rape is taken to be an acceptable topic for humour. American prisons would be barbaric regardless of the number of people incarcerated.

I accept that there are some offences for which a prison sentence would be counterproductive or disproportionate. But the fact remains that criminals can now commit extremely serious offences without ever seeing the inside of a prison cell. Prison is the only punishment most criminals actually fear, given the extraordinarily soft nature of non-custodial sentences and the appalling rates of compliance. Even something like assault occasioning ABH now recieves a suspended sentence – in the eyes of the victim, no sentence at all.

You draw an undeserved distinction between the sellers of drugs and their clients. The simple truth is that the buying of drugs is no lesser crime than selling, given that both are carried out as part of the same transaction and by people who could otherwise choose to comply with the law. If anything, incarceration combined with an effective detox program can be the first step towards a sober and law-abiding life.



Judging by the downvotes I see this comment has gone down like a lead balloon in the bien pensant shit pit that is the Legal Cheek comment section.

Pity, it’s a v. reasonable comment.


philip green's yacht

could Lord Grabiner QC and a judge do it?



Chris Grayling could do it.




Liz Truss appears eminently qualified for the role.


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