Lord Neuberger admits being a judge is ‘lonely’ and having your judgments ‘trashed’ by academics is hard to take in confessional speech

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By Katie King on

More excitingly, he says he’s a supporter of the Oxford comma

Lord Neuberger has given a heartfelt speech to Oxford University’s law school, reflecting on his 20 years as a judge.

The speech, embedded in full below, features a host of behind the scenes insights into life as a trial judge, a Court of Appeal judge, the Master of the Rolls and, finally, the head of the Supreme Court. Neuberger will be stepping down from this position this summer.

Early on in his career, Neuberger admits he found it hard to adjust to life on the bench. “Being a first instance Chancery judge in the Royal Courts of Justice was much lonelier than being a barrister in chambers”, he said. The internal design of the judiciary’s area is “somewhat reminiscent of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon”. Had a fellow judge not moved into the court above him, he “would have been very lonely indeed”.

Things got better for the Supreme Court president. He now relishes in the fact he gets on well with his fellow justices (they have a “mutual respect” for one another) and is happy to report judges “are considerably politer and considerably less unpleasant in court” than when he was a barrister in the 1970s.

However, one thing Neuberger has struggled to deal with throughout his career is having his judgments overturned and analysed by appeal judges and academics respectively. On the former, he said:

When I was reversed [as trial judge], I could never make up my mind whether it was better to think “yes, I see where I went wrong: they are right”, or “no, they’ve got it wrong: I was right.

The latter seemed to upset Neuberger more. He continued:

[W]hen I read some articles I wonder about the accuracy of referring to the ‘benefit of seeing my judgments analysed’, and wonder if the ‘pain of seeing my judgments trashed’ would be a more accurate description.

He was particularly saddened by “a rather over-the-top article” by contract law textbook author Graham Virgo, who slammed a Supreme Court decision about restitution and unjust enrichment. It’s easy to see why; Virgo describes the ruling at hand as “arguably the worst decision in the history of the Supreme Court”. Ouch.

Perhaps the most exciting revelation of all, however, comes from footnote 11 of Neuberger’s speech, where he discusses the much-debated Oxford comma. Here, he admits he is a “supporter” of the controversial punctuation mark, news which has piqued the legal Twitterati’s interest.

Read Lord Neuberger’s full speech to Oxford Law School here:

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