Judges are humans too, says Lord Neuberger

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By Katie King on

Supreme Court justice opens up about impact of dad’s death on his judicial career


The president of the Supreme Court has treated lawyers to a very candid look at what life is really like serving as a judge.

Lord Neuberger, speaking in Singapore about what the proper role of a judge actually is, admits that he — as a human being — is “fallible”.

In an honest look-back at a time early on in his judicial career, Neuberger remembered:

I was listening to an oldish man who was giving evidence which was inherently unconvincing, and I noticed that I was trying to justify or explain away his inconsistencies and evasions to myself. I pulled myself up and tried to examine why I was doing this, and then I realised that, through his physical and vocal mannerisms, he reminded me of my father who had recently died, and that this caused me to want to believe him.

Though Neuberger admits this was an example of bias, he says it’s “nothing to be ashamed of”, because “one cannot be a functional human being without having preconceived ideas and notions”. Continuing, he explained:

Nobody is going to know all their prejudices and nobody is going to be able to allow in a perfect way for all the prejudices they know about. But that is no excuse for not trying to assess and allow for them. The fact that we cannot get the answer right every time is no excuse for not doing our best to get the right answer.

Later, Neuberger went on to remind judges how important it is to follow the law, even if this means getting a result they might not be happy with. Perhaps in response to growing media commentary suggesting judges are too lenient and/or unfair, he explained:

When it comes to issues of law, there is sometimes a strong temptation to ‘bend’ the law, or even simply to cheat, if strict application of the cases or statute appears to lead to what appears to be an unmeritorious result in the particular case to be decided… As a matter of principle, a judge should plainly resist the temptation to misapply the law in such a case.

You can read Lord Neuberger’s full speech here: