Supreme Court braced for a shake-up but reforms will leave important questions unanswered
Reforms will adjust long-established hierarchy in courts system
Is it also unclear whether the Government intends to promote High Court judges to the new institution or appoint from a wider field. Either way, a significant number of judicial vacancies may soon be the Government’s to fill.
The establishment of the new court will not resolve all the Supreme Court’s problems. One of the most glaring – the current system of judicial appointments – will remain, and many influential figures in the Government and the judiciary hope that in time that too can be substantially reformed.
Both Shatter and Denham have publicly distanced themselves from the current appointments system, where judges are directly chosen by Government, usually (though not necessarily) working from an alphabetical list presented by the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board.
The immediate effect of a new court’s creation would be a dramatic easing of the Supreme Court’s workload. But many close observers of the higher court hope it will bring more profound changes to its working methods, allowing it the space to develop its thinking on the Constitution.
The changes would also allow outsiders gain a clearer insight into what can be an opaque institution. The Bill published yesterday provides for the removal of the “one judgment” rule in cases involving the constitutionality of laws – a reform that will be warmly welcomed on the court and outside.
It will mean that judges will be permitted to publish their own judgments on all constitutional appeals, allowing us to understand the court’s internal differences to a greater extent than has been possible until now.
The changes could also revive the debate, inside and outside the court, between advocates of a more expansionist court and those who have a more limited view of its role.
“I think the Supreme Court has undoubtedly achieved a lot over its 90 years or so of existence, but it has missed many opportunities,” says Prof Brice Dickson of Queen’s University Belfast. “Given the imminent reforms, the potential now exists for the court to make a real difference.”