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

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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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30 Comments

Martin

Is it any surprise that those in administration (be it the government or the courts) dislike FOI, when it can be used to get pointless comments like these?

Marc

Couldn’t agree more! Civil servants working in the justice sector have enough on their plate without having to spend time on a completely unnecessary FOI.

Just Anonymous

In my view, nothing to see here except a sensible application of common sense by all relevant parties.

I generally agree with Lord Sumption’s lockdown views. But you can’t express such views as stridently as he has and continue to judge.

Either stay silent and judge; or retire fully and give all the media interviews you like.

It’s one or the other. You can’t do both.

Anonymous

Problem with that is that approach bias doesn’t disappear, it just remains hidden.

Barry

So then why have judges at all, everyone has bias in one form or another. We have to trust in them to be able to make objective judgments. I know it is very trendy to see bias in everything and treat it as some form of unavoidable original sin, but most sensible people can be objective when the time calls for it.

Anonymous

The problem is that too many judges aren’t objective. It is desirable that judges be free to express opinions, but if those opinions show that they’re not impartial then they shouldn’t be allowed to judge on those matters. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find impartial judges.

The QC’s Only Fans Account

Kudos to Sumption.

Why bother in your 70’s when he could enjoy his homes in France with his nest egg from the commercial bar, maybe focus back on historical writing and generally just make the most of his life?

There’s more to life than law and the office.

Anonymous

It’s likely that, since giving the Reith lectures in 2019, he’s been in demand for his opinions by newspaper editors, also radio and TV producers – and Julia H-B – which he finds hard to resist. Although, apropos his comments about COVID and “police state” and lockdowns, he is not an epidemiologist. He is also, reportedly, not in favour of trial by jury.

Anonymous

Today is the first time, I think, that I have commented on this site and while exploring how the Like/Dislike thing works I have managed to “dislike” my own comment. So whatever the total is, take away one. (I thought that clicking on one or other of those numbers might show you – as Twitter does – who had Liked/Disliked but it doesn’t.)

fdfd

Wouldn’t you say that a judge knows more about civil liberties and crisis laws than an epidemiologist? Scientists are important experts in these discussions, so are legal experts, so are economists, so are psychologists.

Anonymous

Sumption, with his background of privilege, put many barriers to justice in place for litigants facing capital wealthy opponents. His attitude was more one from 1910 not 2010. Hopefully his legacy will be chipped away promptly.

Anonymous

While I agree with his views on lockdown, I entirely agree with you.

LIPs up and down the country will also be relieved. Barton v Wright Hassall is a stain on British justice.

Anonymous

As is Prest. A charter for the rich to structure “asset protection” vehicles.

Anonymous

Rock Advertising was another horror especially for small businesses.

The People’s Poet

There was an old Judge called Sumption.

Some say, he didn’t lack gumption.

Outspoken as such,

He rather said too much,

And now they’re looking to dump’im.

Anong

Penis.

The People’s Poet

Yes, I have one, thank you.

It’s considerably larger than yours.

Archibald Pomp O'City

There once was a People’s Poet
Who didn’t half think he knew’it
But his use of rhyme
Was original none of the time
Talent? He sure didn’t show it

The state of Legal Cheek's comments section: a haiku

More lame poetry:
It’s author, an equally
oversized ego.

Archibald Pomp O'City

Ego oversized
But apostrophically supreme
Compared to you.

Jack

And not improperly either. It’s a sentiment I’m sure Lord Sumption himself shares.

If Sumption wants to raise his head above the parapet and make his views public, that’s his prerogative. But it is, as he acknowledges, undeniably bad for the rule of law for him to be presiding on cases where it may be seen that his views influence his judgment.

Anonymous

Its healthy for judges to be able to express opinions as long as they dont then go on to judge cases where they have a bias.

Plm

But they shouldn’t make themselves the focus of arguments for one side on one of the most divisive political issues in the nation.

Anonymous

Not sure that he has done that, but even if he had this shouldn’t preclude him from judging anything at all.

Arfur

How about a judicial review or human rights challenge to a lockdown reg or fine?

Anonymous

I thought most lockdown fines weren’t being enforced?

SensibleHairChap

He should be excluded from sitting based on his silly hair. Nothing says ‘not right’ more than someone who thinks that their silly hair makes them some kind of sexy individualist. Just look at that idiot Robert Peston. If you want to look like a clown, go and work for the circus.

Anonymous

Vide the ‘Prime Minister’.

Anonymous

Am I the only one who thinks there is something synthetic about the UKSC e-mails released in response to Kanter-Webber’s FOI request?

Anon

Erm, isn’t that literally the opposite of what Prest did? It set out a structured analysis of the existing case law on the corporate veil, and then gave an alternative route to getting around the limitations put in place by separate legal personality through use of trust law analysis?

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