The Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger has been named the next Supreme Court president, succeeding Lord Phillips, who will officially step down in September.
Many will welcome the appointment, with Neuberger MR perceived as a modernist judge who has risen through the ranks at a rapid pace thanks to his common-sense approach. Neuberger MR had turned down a job on the Supreme Court bench when it was first established, instead taking the post of MR.
When he took the position in 2009 (23 July 2009) he wasted no time in raising concerns about the new Supreme Court stating: “To change […] the Law Lords into the Supreme Court as a result of what appears to have been a last-minute decision over a glass of whisky seems to me to verge on the frivolous[…].
“The danger is you muck around with a constitution at your peril, because you don’t know what the consequences of any change will be.”
Nevertheless, Neuberger has been a staunch supporter of the new regime and has been instrumental in supporting wider reform in the courts.
Lord Phillips said of the appointment: “In Lord Neuberger I know we have an extremely talented new president, who brings not only a wealth of judicial experience but the ability to lead a collegiate court. I wish him all the very best and I only hope that he enjoys this very special honour as much as I have.”
Outer Temple barrister Daniel Barnett said of the appointment: “It’s unlikely that Lord Neuberger will take the UK Supreme Court in the direction of the US Supreme Court, which is often willing to strike down legislation.
“In a speech last year, he emphasised parliamentary sovereignty is a core element of the UK constitution. But this approach may be challenged, as more and more UK legislation is scrutinised by the higher courts for its compatibility with European Union treaties and the European Convention on Human Rights.”
Neuberger’s appointment to one of the most senior jobs in the judiciary is likely to bring about a renewed stance on spiralling costs by the civil judiciary. In May Neuberger MR caused controversy within the profession by calling for the end of the hourly rate.
Billing by the hour, he said, “leads to inefficient practices, at worst it rewards and incentivises inefficiency” (16 May 2012).
Neuberger MR was called to the bar in 1974 and took silk in 1987. He became a High Court judge in 1996 before becoming one of the country’s youngest Law Lords when was elevated to the House of Lords in 2000, having spent just three years in the Court of Appeal.
As president of the Supreme Court Neuberger MR will have judicial responsibilities as well as leadership, ambassadorial and administrative responsibilities. In particular the president is responsible for leading discussions with the Lord Chancellor over policy and resource issues and may also be called to appear before Treasury Select Committees.
The high-level appointment signals a major shift at the top of the civil judiciary with the MR position to be filled. It is believed that the Ministry of Justice will also be on the hunt for a new Commercial Court head with incumbent Mrs Justice Gloster tipped to be joining the Court of Appeal (19 June 2012).