Legal Ethics and Reform

Great Britain Implements a Bad American Idea

In Oct 2009, Great Britain decided to pull the ultimate judicial appellate authority out of a committee of the Parliament and instead rest it in a stand alone Supreme Court. Furthermore, the term of office for a judge on this court shall be indefinite with retirement required only at age 75. Finally future appointments to the court shall be made by a committee of judges from various courts, including judges from this “self same” Supreme Court.

The Brits have not only adopted some of the worst features of the US Supreme Court’s process, including the indefinite terms and no ability of the legislative branch to overturn decisions that are unpalatable to the general public. But the Brits even managed to trump the Americans by allowing a committee of Judges to appoint future Supreme Court judges, rather than the Prime Minister or, even better, a committee of non-lawyer Parliamentarians.

There are two factors which might be consider as justifying this move by Britain. (1) The EU has become obsessed with this idea of separation of powers and has been insisting that member countries including Britain separate the judicial function from the rest of government. Of course, Britain with its thousand year history of successfully handling judicial evolution should have demanded an exemption from this EU requirement. (2) Legislators in democracies have become fixated on re-election rather than involving themselves with hard decision making. The result has been a tendency to pass general laws giving real decision making to unelected committees to promulgate “implementing rules and regulations”. Then when the people complain about the oppressive nature of the rules, the legislators can say “not my fault man”. Requiring a committee of the legislature to decided difficult judicial cases works against this trend of legislators self-absolving themselves from having to make any tough decisions, judicial or legislative.

Today, everyone in Britain is asking “do you think these newly minted “UK Supremes” will wander off the reservation the way the “US Supremes” have over the years?”. The new judges in London have assured everyone that they have no desire to behave “so independently”. But as Lord Acton said “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. This new court has been given a huge amount of unchecked power, the world will soon see if Lord Acton was right - when such power lands in the hands of a few of his own countrymen.

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