Supreme Court judge expressed ‘relief’ at Lord Sumption’s resignation in previously unseen email exchange

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By Aishah Hussain on

Made public through FOI request

Lord Hodge and Lord Sumption

Lord Sumption’s decision this year to withdraw from a list of former judges who can sit part-time in the Supreme Court appears to have been welcomed by at least one of the court’s most senior members.

In an email exchange made public by a freedom of information request, Sumption, 72, hands in his resignation from the Supreme Court supplementary panel “in view of public criticisms which I was making of the government”.

“I very much doubt whether it will be appropriate for me to sit again at any time in the next three years which remain before I reach the age of 75,” Sumption writes in an email to Supreme Court president, Lord Reed, in January, and recently made public thanks to the efforts of blogger Gabriel Kanter-Webber. “Unless you disagree, I think that the time has come for me to withdraw from the supplementary list.”

Reed replies: “I think that is the right decision, given your high public profile in relation to controversial questions of public policy.”

He tells the court’s chief executive, Vicky Fox, and the deputy president, Lord Hodge that he has accepted Sumption’s resignation.

Hodge replies to Reed and Fox: “That is a relief.”

Sumption was appointed a justice of the Supreme Court in January 2012. He retired in December 2018 at the age of 70, as required by the law. Shortly afterwards, he was invited to join the court’s supplementary panel.

The former Supreme, known for his wacky ties, has been an outspoken critic of the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, frequently arguing that measures taken to curb the spread of the virus have been an attack on personal liberties.

Last summer Sumption admitted to flouting some coronavirus laws he described as “absurd”. He also received the unlikely backing of tech titan Elon Musk when he wrote an article for the Daily Mail slamming UK lockdown restrictions.

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Sumption’s name disappeared from the supplementary panel section on the Supreme Court’s website some months ago, according to members of the legal Twitterati, which led some to speculate the reason behind his departure and reach out to the court for information.

Barrister Adam Wagner pointed out that a “code of conduct” for supplementary panel members now appears on the Supreme Court’s website, and was “last updated [in] August 2021”. It states, among other things, that panel members’ extra-judicial activities are “relevant to the court’s reputation” and that they should therefore “exercise discretion as to whether their retirement activities might compromise their independence or impartiality”.

The Supreme Court has been approached for comment.

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