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Why Was The Supreme Court Created
In June 2003, the UK government publicised its intention to replace the House of Lords, as a highest court in the UK with a Supreme Court. “The final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases, which also hears appeals in criminal cases from England, Wales an Northern Ireland. It was established in 2009 to take over the judicial functions of the House of Lords.." (Oxford Dictionary) The provisions of the new court were provided in the Constitutional Reform Act which was passed in 2005. Before October 2009, the English legal system was headed by the House of Lords which was the last court of appeal for civil and criminal disputes on UK grounds: England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. However, in some exceptional circumstances they refer some cases to be ruled by the European Court of Justice. The 12 justices of the House of Lords were shifted to the Supreme Court. In addition to dealing with civil and criminal cases, the Supreme Court also resides over devolution jurisdiction of the Privy Council.
According to the consultation paper for reforming the House of Lords, the Supreme Court was essential to create an independent judiciary which can be free from any interferences by the legislature and the executive (Elliott and Quinn, 2009, p575). The Supreme Court has now its own building, which not only provides a spacious and a suitable working environment for the Supreme Justices, but also keeps them away from political influences. Furthermore, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 aims to offer a more clarified constitution through separating the three pillars of the UK government by introducing a Supreme Court. Lord Mance in From House of Lords to Supreme Court (2009) stated that the reform will mark the independence of the judiciary and recognise the rule of law. Hence, avoiding the confusion of the House of Lords’ legislative and judicial capacity and making the Supreme Court ‘‘separately identifiable’’.
The need for the reform has also emerged as a result of a significant growth of the judicial review cases. Moreover, the Human Rights Act 1998 guarantees in article 6 the right for a fair trial, as well as the necessity that judges need not only to be independent, but also to be seen that way.
In addition, the reform brings about greater transparency, as in the House of Lords the public was unable to witness whatever happens there. However, in the Supreme Court this is not the case as the public are enabled to view live proceedings. Lord Bash mentioned that this step was an important milestone in terms of connecting the public with the justice system (BBC, 2009). The Supreme Court is more likely to be better understood by regular citizens than the House of Lords due to the engagement of the public with the court. Nowadays, the court hears cases of great importance that need superior treatment as a result of their complexity and sensitivity. This boosts public confidence in the legal system, as citizens are able to observe first-hand the Supreme Justices’ rulings regarding public safety for instance.
However, the reform has brought some concerns along with it as the Act of Union 1707 has guaranteed the Scottish government an independent legal system. An amendment of the Scotland Bill would ensure that the Supreme Court has jurisdictions on Scottish criminal cases. Fiona Hyslop (external affairs minister) has accused Westminster of “serial undermining of the Scottish justice system" over this issue. (BBC, 2011)
how effective has it been at upholding civil liberties?
Civil liberties refer to those rights that individuals are legally entitled to. The UK has adopted the European Convention on Human Rights which obliges the Supreme Court to rule accordingly. The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporates civil liberties such as: fair trial, freedom of speech, privacy, safety and many others. Since October 2009, the Supreme Court has dealt with appeals that are a great importance to both the public and the constitution. The 12 Supreme 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" (Supreme Court) making this step a pivotal moment in the UK law.
The Supreme Court seems to be quite capable of tackling complex disputes effectively. In R (E) v Governing body of JFS (2009), the Justices have protected the defendant’s rights from being racially discriminated due to different religious backgrounds. They have acknowledged that racially discriminating an individual’s ethnic origins breaches the Race Relations Act 2000. Lord Philips (Shepherd and Butt, 2009) noted the importance that the Jewish community should overcome this obstacle to achieve impartiality in this world.
Similarly, in HJ (Iran) and HD (Cameron) v Home Secretary (2010), to some extent, the Supreme Court recognised asylum seekers’ rights. A ruling of this magnitude may make Britain be perceived as a safe haven for gay and lesbian asylum seekers who fear prosecution in their home countries.
However, in Secretary of State for the Home Department (Respondent) v AP (Appellant) , the Supreme Court ruled differently on both regardless that the cases were in breach of human rights. This contradicts with the rights of the individuals, which the Supreme Court claims to uphold in its judgements. The justices in their proceedings choose to favour national security over the rights of the individuals. Thereby, forcing the hardship upon the claimants who suffer from the... Lord Brown(HRvs NS) concluded that AP had been deprived his liberty thus not following article 8 of the human convention.
In conclusion, they are strong reasons supporting the creation of a Supreme Court in the UK. It separates the Parliament from the senior judges, encouraging independence for the Justices. In addition to this, the public is enabled to follow up both physically and by watching proceedings through television, reducing the gap between public and the judicial system. In addition, the Supreme Court is deemed to be bolder in upholding citizens’ freedom and as being separate it gives them the opportunity to face the executive. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8237855.stm)The downsize of the Supreme Court is likely to be the fear that the Justices may become powerful in time thus leading to difficulties in the future for the government