It was the worst kept secret in the Inns of Court, but this week the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) confirmed the appointment of Brick Court’s Jonathan Sumption QC and Lord Justice Wilson as the next Supreme Court justices.
Jonathan Sumption QC
Speculation has been rife for months that Wilson LJ had been tipped the wink by the MoJ; and no one believed that Sumption could be turned down on his second application. (He withdrew an application in December 2009 after an apparent negative reaction from senior judiciary).
Yet as The Lawyer revealed last month, Sumption will be forced to delay his appointment because he is instructed as lead counsel in the Russian oligarch dispute between Roman Abramovich, who he represents, and Boris Berezovsky (6 April).
When rumours of Sumption’s elevation started to circulate, Brick Court attempted to squash them by insisting that it had he been aware of any judicial appointment the Bar Council code of conduct would’ve prevented Sumption from taking any new instruction.
Many barristers understand why Sumption might want to get in one last landmark case before he becomes the first barrister to leap frog the Court of Appeal straight into the Supreme Court.
As justices in the country’s highest court Sumption and Wilson LJ will collect annual salaries of £206,857, significantly less than a top silks’ pay packet.
Yet others have criticised the timing of the appointment. As one commentator on TheLawyer.com said: “This is a disgraceful state of affairs. Mr Sumption either wants to be a judge or he does not.
“If he does, then he should be expected to front up in May when [Supreme Court Justice] Lawrence Collins retires and the vacancy arises. Why should the Supreme Court be short-handed for nine months for his convenience and financial benefit?”
Those dissenting voices will no doubt stir up some support from outside the profession.
With politicians coming out of the woodwork to pour scorn on the judiciary over decisions relating to the Human Rights Act and so called-super injunctions, it will be a controversy many judges are keen to avoid.
Yet those at the top of the judicial ladder are starting to get more gutsy in how they deal with the critics.
Never mind the controversy and detractors, Sumption will reinvigorate the Supreme Court panel and give it a practitioners perspective.
If he starts to speak out, like his peer Lord Neuberger the Master of the Rolls, it may well be that we start to see a new side to the Supreme Court, one which is quite clearly divided from Westminster as originally intended when it was launched.