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

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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29 Comments

Lord Harley of Council

He cracked the same terminus ad quem joke at the Lincoln’s Inn silks dinner in 2011.

(5)(4)
SingaporeSwing

Any person who has something worth saying which people want to listen to has a necessarily limited stock of anecdotes and acceptable jokes, which can surely be used again for different audiences. So I’m guessing he’s not bothered too much if he uses the same joke twice.

(26)(1)
Newburger LJ (with egg-fried rice) 🃏

🎼 I’m rone-ree… So rone-ree… I rone-ree an’ sad as can be… I rone-ree… Me on-ree… Poor rittr meeeeee……🎤

(2)(6)
Kelli

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Anonymous

Well, one can always change things… how about judges stop being enemies of the people for a start?

(5)(59)
Anonymous

By that do you mean you want judges to cave to public pressure every single time there’s a high-profile issue?

(3)(3)
Rzbg

He is a really top chap. I met him when I was a law student and he was very kind. Nice to see a candid speech like this.

(36)(0)
Anonymous

I hate being a lawyer, but I think I’d like being a Judge.

(3)(2)
Anonymous

Do you ever approve of anything, Not Amused? Do you ever like anything, or anyone? Or even just feel indifferent? Or does everything aggrieve you?

(20)(2)
Not Amused

Most things do aggrieve me, tosspots like you for example…

(2)(7)
Anonymous

I’m a tosspot for pointing out that you’re a shrill, depressing, cold individual (at least judging from your posts here)? Okay.

(5)(2)
Not Amused

Interesting that you would think my posts shrill when they are clearly founded on academic reason… Still that’s the problem with a lot of those in society; no interest in developing academics, no real chance of succeeding in the professions.

(1)(8)
Not Amused

And I would like to add, before the bitter comments to the effect of ‘I am not a barrister’ start, that I have had a successful career at the bar and in legal academia. It is not my fault that academic ability is so well regarded, so please leave all your ugly prejudices at the door.

(2)(3)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(4)(0)
Anon

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(5)
SingaporeSwing

Lord Neuberger is one of the most popular and accessible members of the senior judiciary around. He often talks with students at non-Russell Group universities and gives freely of his time, and to audiences across the globe. I’m not sure why this article has provoked this angry exchange.

(6)(3)
Anonymous

What in God’s name are you talking about? Who are “my ilk”?

“Do you really think you can compare your life to mine?” How impossibly arrogant can you get?

And I (I’m the original commentator, not the subsequent one) am also a qualified lawyer, so have clearly succeeded in the profession.

(4)(1)
Anonymous

You come across as an unpleasant, hate-filled individual. It doesn’t sound like your many accomplishments have brought you any happiness.

(4)(1)
Not Amused

Would LC mind removing all the fake me posts? The only honest one is the first.

(9)(1)
Anonymous

Virgo is not a ‘top contract law textbook author’, he writes on criminal law and (relevantly) restitution (and equity), and has textbooks in all 3 areas

(7)(4)
Anonymous Coward

Anyone who isn’t a moron supports the Oxford comma

(11)(4)
Shiny sixpence

Who gives a fk about an Oxford Comma?

I’ve seen those English dramas too.

They’re cruel.

So if there’s any other way to spell, well that’s fine with me.

Why would you speak to me that way? Especially when I always said that I hadn’t got the words for you?

All your diction dripping with distain- through the pain, I always tell the truth.

(8)(0)
Downing

Graham Virgo has not written a contract textbook. Get your facts right Katie King. This is shoddy journalism.

(9)(0)
Anonymous

Graham Virgo has not written a contract textbook. Get your facts right Katie King. This is shoddy journalism.

(3)(0)
Does not know Katie King

“The internal design of the judiciary’s area in the Rolls Building 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”.”

This doesn’t follow. It suggests Neuberger was sat in the Rolls Building (which he plainly wasn’t, given the date that building opened) when he might have been “very lonely indeed” if he hadn’t had a judge move in upstairs. But as is clear from the written version of the speech, Neuberger was talking about his time in the Thomas More building.

(3)(0)

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