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Top journalist says Lady Hale is ‘not fit’ to be next head of the Supreme Court

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Brexit comments “must surely rule her out” of presidency running

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A leading journalist has said law student favourite and sole female Supreme Court justice Lady Hale is “not fit” to head up the top appeal court.

In a strongly worded piece which featured in The Times (£) this morning, political commentator Melanie Phillips (pictured top right) stated Hale had “thrown a judicial hand grenade” into the highly-charged Brexit litigation by making arguably biased comments about the case.

Due to be heard at the Supreme Court in a matter of weeks, the Miller case is a judicial review challenging the government’s stance on the invocation of Article 50. Lead claimant Gina Miller argues Article 50 cannot be triggered by prerogative power alone and the High Court agreed, prompting a nasty — and to our mind unprecedented — media backlash against the judges involved. Come 5 December, it will be down to the Supreme Court to sort this mess out.

Against this emotive backdrop, Hale caused a bit of a stir by making — in Phillips’ words — “an extraordinary comment” about the case at a law student lecture earlier this month.

In her speech, the deputy president of the Supreme Court said:

Another question is whether it would be enough for a simple act of parliament to authorise the government to give notice, or whether it would have to be a comprehensive replacement of the 1972 act [the European Communities Act].

This comment has riled some spectators; Iain Duncan Smith MP reportedly said judges shouldn’t “tell parliament how they should go about that business”, while Dominic Raab MP warned “if judges dip their toes in political waters by making speeches outside the courtroom, they are asking to get splashed back”.

Though the Supreme Court promptly issued a statement defending Hale — claiming she was “simply presenting arguments from both sides of the Article 50 appeal in an impartial way” — this doesn’t seem to have appeased Phillips. Speaking about the possibility of Hale bagging Lord Neuberger’s presidency job when he retires next year, she has today said:

Lady Hale’s lapse of judgment, at a time of acute concern about public trust in an objective judiciary, must surely rule her out of the running for the Supreme Court’s top job.

Ouch.

Lawyers, often keen to defend their own, have not taken Phillips comments lying down.

On Twitter this morning, Quadrant Chambers’ James Turner QC called regular Question Time panellist Phillips a “well-known jurist” — seemingly a dig at her non-legal background.

In response to Turner’s tweet, Sean Jones QC suggested Phillips speak to her husband — top legal affairs journalist Joshua Rozenberg QC — about Hale, while criminal barrister Nicholas Diable questioned the Oxford English graduate’s gravitas as a law commentator.

Though Phillips is an experienced, admired journalist, we’re sure Hale — who was crowned the “most admired person in the legal profession” among law students last year — and her reputation will withstand these comments.