On 11 November 2010, Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony delivered the annual Bracton Law Lecture at Exeter University.  Arranged by the university’s “Bracton Law Society”, students and Exeter legal practitioners were able to attend the free public event.

After considering the purpose of the Supreme Court, the role of the House of Lords before it, and how the Supreme Court was born, Lord Clarke reflected on whether the move from the House of Lords to the Supreme Court had been worthwhile, asking the question “so has it all been worth it?” and concluding that “only time will tell“.

Lord Clarke did, however, comment that the transformation of the Middlesex Guildhall had been “a great success“, suggesting that while some may have seen the move of the land’s highest Court from the House of Lords to an independent building as “merely cosmetic“, it has actually meant there is more transparency, and the court being much more accessible to the public than Committee Room 1 (where the law lords sat in the Palace of Westminster) was previously.  He said “it is often said that justice must not only be done, but also be seen to be done.  Now it can be seen to be done“.

Lord Clarke went on to say that it is important to note that the UK Supreme Court is not a constitutional court, and that its role is not to strike down statutes, but to decide what statutes mean (although he noted that the Supreme Court’s decisions could have an impact on statute in two circumstances – in the context of EC law and human rights law).  He observed that public law cases have continued to flourish in the Supreme Court (as they did in the House of Lords before it), and predicted that judicial review will grow in the future (commenting that citizens are more aware of their rights than they once were and are willing and able to challenge decisions), and that the Supreme Court will play an important role in the development of administrative and public law.

Lord Clarke spoke favourably of having larger panels of Justices “in cases of real public importance“, and said that in his view “in the longer term there is a case for having a smaller court, which takes fewer cases but on which all the justices sit“.  He also came out in favour of having more single judgments, calling it “a desirable trend“, as it is “very important that it should be clear what the true reason for (or ratio decidendi of) the case is“.

He concluded by saying that he hoped that the school report on the Supreme Court’s first year is that it “made a promising start but room for improvement“, and that his view is that the Supreme Court will make an extremely valuable contribution to the development of English Law over the next 50 years.

The full text of Lord Clarke’s lecture can be found here.