The judiciary has made a slow march to the heart of politics. But as Boris Johnson plots his revenge, have the judges overplayed their hand?by Tom Clark and Alex Dean / January 24, 2020 / Leave a comment
In mid-October, there was an unusual book launch at the UK Supreme Court. In a crowded room at the top of a grand staircase, leading judges, advocates and legal commentators rubbed shoulders, sipped wine and enjoyed canapés, just as you’d expect. But among them were kids darting around the corridors. For the assembled jurists were not here to celebrate some legal treatise or academic tome but a children’s book. Equal to Everything: Judge Brenda and the Supreme Court by Afua Hirsch tells the story of Lady Hale, the court’s president from 2017 to January 2020, from her childhood in Yorkshire through to the legal profession and eventually the top of the highest court in the land.
Hirsch’s book will have struck a certain type of liberal parent as an ideal Christmas gift, but its real significance was in confirming the arrival of Britain’s first judicial superstar—a judge who is not only known and admired in the legal world, but who cuts a recognisable figure in the wider culture. In the United States, where the Supreme Court has the final say on huge social questions like abortion, there’s no clear line between law and politics. You can buy T-shirts showing the court’s liberal stalwart Ruth Bader Ginsburg with slogans such as “I dissent”—and, yes, a children’s book about “Notorious RBG.” On this side of the Atlantic, by contrast, on the rare occasions when the personality of a judge cuts through to public consciousness, it has normally been because of their archetypal judge-ish-ness—like, say, Jeremiah Harman, who claimed in 1990 that he had no idea what sport England footballer Paul Gascoigne played, and asked if “Gazza” didn’t feature in the title of an operetta. In ordinary times, no judge would have drawn the limelight in the way Hale did. But these are unusual times for the UK judiciary. And away from the cosy atmosphere in the court on that autumn evening, they are frightening times too.
Recent rulings—above all the two so-called “Miller judgments” that punctuated the Brexit saga—have thrust the court and its judges to the centre of the national conversation. After the second of these cases culminated in Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament being ruled “unlawful, void and of no effect” in September, Hale was suddenly a household…