Meet your new Supreme Court stars

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By Katie King on

Who are the judges appointed to the UK’s top bench?

The new judicial stars of the Supreme Court have today been revealed.

The trio of Court of Appeal judges will, in October, be sworn in as Supreme Court justices. All three of them, in current president Lord Neuberger’s words, “has led a distinguished judicial career and has a huge amount to offer the court and the development of the law.”

Though judicial appointments are hardly the heavily politicised drama fest exhibited across the pond, today is without doubt a very important day for legal affairs.

The trio of newbies will replace Lords Neuberger, Toulson and Clarke to make up an entire quarter of the bench. Given that the answers to some of the country’s most important legal questions — like whether Northern Irish women should be entitled to free abortions in England — have been decided with a majority of one, our new Supreme Court justices may have a potentially enormous impact on the law. So let’s meet them:

Lord Justice Briggs is an expert in commercial and chancery law, a Court of Appeal judge and the deputy head of civil justice — but is perhaps better known for his love of all things tech.

He is the godfather of online courts, proposals on which state low-level disputes should be moved onto a cyber court often likened to eBay’s dispute resolution service. This has struck fear into the hearts of young lawyers, who are concerned this online way of doing justice will dampen their career prospects. Briggs was also the judge in charge of the Chancery Modernisation Review in 2013.

Briggs’ tech know-how was showcased at a 2016 Legal Cheek event — ‘FinTech, AI and online justice: what technology means for the next generation of lawyers’. Here, he told aspiring lawyers not to worry about his online court proposals swallowing up their work. He said:

I recognise that [online courts] may produce less profit per case for the legal profession, but it should open up civil justice to a whole community out there, many of whom are perfectly computer literate yet currently view the current system as completely inaccessible… Even if lawyers get less profit per case, there’ll be so many cases in there that the lawyers have nothing to fear.

In one of our favourite moments of the event, he then networked with Legal Cheek readers wearing a fetching backpack:

Legal Cheek verdict: Briggs is a very personable guy. We see many Neuberger-esque qualities in him, and think he’ll make a welcome addition to the bench.

Not only is Lady Justice Black the sole female new justice, she’s also the only one who hasn’t been to Oxbridge. Black will join fellow Durham grad Lord Hughes as one of two non-Oxbridge educated, English judges on the panel (Lord Kerr studied in Belfast; Lord Reed in Edinburgh). Doxbridge or what?

The first lawyer in her family, Black was called to the bar in 1976 and has since then whizzed her way up the ranks. Though her initial career covered a range of civil and criminal law, her expertise is predominantly in family law: she was appointed as a judge in the High Court’s Family Division in 1999; served as a family division liaison judge on the Northern Circuit from 2000-2004; became the chairman of the Judicial Studies Board’s Family Committee in 2004; and is currently the head of International Family Justice.

Black, one of few women in the senior ranks of the judiciary, was recently depicted in a portrait along with four of her fellow female Court of Appeal counterparts. The large art work was commissioned by Inner Temple, to celebrate the achievements of its female members.

Image via @JoshuaRozenberg
Image via @JoshuaRozenberg

Commenting on today’s appointment, Dana Denis-Smith, creator of feminism initiative the First 100 Years project, told us: “Today will go down in legal history as one of the most significant landmarks for women in law… The ratio of men to women on the court still does not reflect the parity that we so need in the highest judicial forum in the country; but having a 100% uplift in the number of women — to two justices — is a step change.”

Legal Cheek verdict: It’s likely the press will shine more of a light on Black than her fellow apointees given her gender. Like Lady Hale, Black has strong ties to the family law world, which will complement the commercial law-heavy expertise boasted by their male counterparts.

A Welsh voice for the Supreme Court, Lord Lloyd Jones was called to the bar in 1975 and in the same year became a fellow of Downing College, Cambridge. A number of his academic articles have been published in journals, including this one on human rights and this one on contract law.

But he’s also a successful barrister, his practice including international, EU and public law. Lloyd Jones took silk in 1999 before being appointed to the judiciary in 2005. He’s been a Court of Appeal judge since 2012.

Lloyd Jones also has a background in law reform. In 2012, he was appointed chairman of the Law Commission. This was a position held by former Supreme Court-er Toulson — who sadly died less than a year after retiring from the bench — from 2002-2006.

Lloyd Jones was hotly tipped to take over from fellow Welshman Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd as the country’s next Lord Chief Justice. However, the role was handed to Sir Ian Burnett last week, leading legal affairs journalist Joshua Rozenberg to say at the time that Lloyd Jones “is now expected to go to the Supreme Court.”

Legal Cheek verdict: Hale has often been praised for writing clear, concise judgments which may well stem from her time as a University of Manchester academic. Let’s hope former Cambridge fellow Lloyd Jones adopts the same student-friendly principles!

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