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The Supreme Court of Justice

Supreme CourtIn this article we are considering the Supreme Court formed just over a year ago. Having studied on the Diploma course, you will have already identified yourself to prospective employers as someone with a serious interest in the law. Being aware of current developments in the law and legal practice marks you as someone who has a continuing interest in developing his or her knowledge.

The Supreme Court could not be more topical, as this month it has been attacked by David Cameron, who was “appalled” by one of its decisions. The Court was also the subject of a television documentary on 8 February on More4. The television show gives a unique insider’s view of the highest court in the land and allows you to view the finest legal minds in the country at work. If you are quick, you can still see the program on 4oD, Channel 4’s online media player, up to 10 March 2011. 

If you have already completed the Legal Secretary Diploma, you will know about the structure of the Courts in the UK. One of the first units you will have studied was the English Legal System, where the hierarchy and route of appeal in a case was explained. A diagram of the Courts structure has been included at the end of this article to help as a reminder.

So why has the Supreme Court been so popular this month? We can deal with Mr Cameron’s views on the decisions of the Court fairly quickly, as it was a simple exercise in politics. The Court was being targeted as soft on sex offenders by ruling that their human rights had been breached. The subject of the case was distasteful, but it was the principle of natural justice that was the important point. The Court was actually doing what it does best, acting independently of the government and supporting the individual’s right to have a fair hearing. 

If you watched the television documentary you would see just how powerful the Supreme Court Judges can be, as their decisions set down the law for the whole country. Consider some of the issues the Court has dealt with over the last year:

In the first case the Supreme Court heard, it tried to strike a balance between the security of citizens and the human rights of suspects. How far can and should anti-terrorism legislation go? Should suspects be locked up without charge for a week, a month, a year, forever? If we did not have a strong independent Court, some in positions of authority might prefer to lock people up and throw away the key!

In the R (Smith) case, the question of whether British soldiers are protected by human rights on the battlefield was asked. The answer was that human rights would not apply, but the case did result in the Ministry of Defence having to put in greater protection for all soldiers.

Due to the Radmacher judgment, prenuptial agreements now have the potential of being legally binding in the UK.

The case of Norris v USA may challenge the law which allows UK citizens to be extradited to the US.

All of these cases deal with issues that have wide social and political importance. Over the coming years you will definitely hear more in the news about the Supreme Court and may even find yourself directly affected by one of its rulings.

If you are interested in learning more, the Court runs guided tours and has an extensive website at www.supremecourt.gov.uk.

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