Neuberger fires parting shot over respect for judges

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Jul 31, 2017
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Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury said “misconceived attacks” were undermining the rule of law

Times Photographer Richard Pohle

The “high quality” of Britain’s judiciary is threatened without adequate financial and political support, the UK’s most senior judge has warned ministers.

In a parting short fired on Friday at his “valedictory” appearance as president of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury said that it would be a “serious error” to take the high quality of the judiciary for granted. “The high quality and proper authority of the judiciary, and therefore the rule of law, is at risk if ministers and parliamentarians do not provide us with appropriate support in the form of both words and means,” said the judge, who is retiring after sitting on the top bench since 2012.

Lord Neuberger told a packed Supreme Court that “misconceived attacks on judges undermine both the rule of law domestically and the international reputation of the legal system, with its consequential financial benefits to the country”.

The rule of law, he said, requires respect for judges not as individuals but as judges, he told a court crowded with judges and senior lawyers. As individuals, however, judges must behave and act so as to earn respect, he added. Judges must maintain their high quality while doing everything they could to be more diverse, remain “steadfast to the law notwithstanding media pressure”, and be “humane and socially aware but not sentimental or pandering to short-term trends”. Judges must also be consistent and clear in developing legal principles and “fearless, but restrained, when exercising our public law powers”, he said.

Lord Neuberger, 69, said that the “remarkable” extent to which the UK was a global legal centre was attributable to the high quality of British judges, as well as British barristers and solicitors. “But it would be a serious error,” he said, “to see the economic benefits as the only purpose of our legal system. And it would be a serious error to take the high quality of our judiciary for granted.”

Lord Neuberger, who has been hugely popular as president of the Supreme Court, was seen off with a round of applause as he made his exit. He is being succeeded by Baroness Hale of Richmond, the first woman to reach the top of the British judiciary.

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