The Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is a non-ministerial government department of the Government of the United Kingdom, serving as the final court of appeal in the United Kingdom for civil cases, and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

In October 2009, The Supreme Court replaced the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords as the highest court in the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court’s 12 Justices maintain the highest standards set by the Appellate Committee, but are now explicitly separate from both Government and Parliament. The Court hears appeals on arguable points of law of the greatest public importance, for the whole of the United Kingdom in civil cases, and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases. Additionally, it hears cases on devolution matters under the Scotland Act 1998, the Northern Ireland Act 1998 and the Government of Wales Act 2006. This jurisdiction was transferred to the Supreme Court from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Supreme Court sits in the former Middlesex Guildhall, on the western side of Parliament Square.

This new location is highly symbolic of the United Kingdom’s separation of powers, balancing judiciary and legislature across the open space of Parliament Square, with the other two sides occupied by the executive (the Treasury building) and the church (Westminster Abbey). The Supreme Court also decides devolution issues, that is issues about whether the devolved executive and legislative authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have acted or propose to act within their powers or have failed to comply with any other duty imposed on them. Devolution cases can reach the Supreme Court in three ways:

  • Through a reference from someone who can exercise relevant statutory powers such as the Attorney General, whether or not the issue is the subject of litigation
  • Through an appeal from certain higher courts in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • Through a reference from certain appellate courts.

Courts are the final arbiter between the citizen and the state, and are therefore a fundamental pillar of the constitution. The Supreme Court was established to achieve a complete separation between the United Kingdom’s senior Judges and the Upper House of Parliament, emphasising the independence of the Law Lords and increasing the transparency between Parliament and the courts. In August 2009 the Justices moved out of the House of Lords (where they sat as the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords) into their own building on the opposite side of Parliament Square. They sat for the first time as a Supreme Court in October 2009. The impact of Supreme Court decisions extend far beyond the parties involved in any given case, shaping our society, and directly affecting our everyday lives. For instance, in their first legal year, the Justices gave landmark rulings on access to legal advice for Scottish suspects, the rights of gay asylum seekers, and the weight to be given to pre-nuptial agreements.

London Multi-Entry Multi-Directional VVIP Visitors Guide © Simon Newbound

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