Supreme Court President: Human Rights Laws Make Judges Nicer
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Supreme Court President: Human Rights Laws Make Judges Nicer

By Natasha Holcroft-Emmess, Associate Editor 23 Feb 2017
Institutions

Lord Neuberger, President of the UK Supreme Court, claims human rights laws may have made judges nicer. 

Speaking at the University of Oxford, Lord Neuberger quoted Lord Asquith, a Law Lord from the 1950s, while reflecting on his 20 years as a judge. ‘Law Lords’ were judges equivalent to our modern day Supreme Court Justices, back when the Supreme Court was called the ‘House of Lords’ – not to be confused with the political body which still makes up one of the two Houses of Parliament.

Lord Asquith said:

The role of the first instance judge is to be quick, courteous, and wrong, which is not to say that the Court of Appeal should be slow, rude and right, because that would usurp the function of the House of Lords.

The first instance judge (also known as a ‘trial judge’) is a judge who sits in the court which hears a case at the first level (such as the High Court). Appeals against decisions of first instance courts may be made to the Court of Appeal and to the Supreme Court (either by appealing a decision of the Court of Appeal, or directly from the High Court in exceptional circumstances using a procedure known as ‘leap-frogging‘).

Lord Neuberger tested his experience at the Supreme Court against Lord Asquith’s three characteristics – speed, courtesy and correctness. Interestingly, in relation to courtesy he said:

Jargon-buster: the ‘bar’ means the profession of a barrister. The ‘culture of respect’  reflects deference which people (especially barristers) are expected to show to judges by virtue of their office and seems to tie in which the point made in the last sentence above.

Human rights & empathy

Human rights are all about empathy – trying to understand situations from the point of view of others to make sure everyone is treated with equal respect. This approach is woven into the texts of many human rights treaties. For example, the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the ‘inherent dignity and… the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family‘.

This understanding is also echoed in the views of prominent legal academics. For example, Conor Gearty, Professor of Human Rights Law at the London School of Economics, said:

[P]roponents of human rights are believers in an idea… that what matters are equality of esteem, universality of respect, and a commitment to… the dignity of all.

Human rights laws also enable us to take into account the interests of minorities, whose voices may be drowned out by majority perspectives even in a democratic system. For example, human rights laws have protected the interests of gay people, transgender people, and vulnerable groups such as childrenvictims of violence and people seeking refuge.

You can read Lord Neuberger’s full speech here.

For more information:

Empathy image: Pexels.com.

About The Author

Natasha Holcroft-Emmess Associate Editor

Natasha studied BA Jurisprudence and the BCL at Oxford University. She qualified as a solicitor at a London law firm before returning to Oxford to undertake an MPhil, researching international human rights law.

Natasha studied BA Jurisprudence and the BCL at Oxford University. She qualified as a solicitor at a London law firm before returning to Oxford to undertake an MPhil, researching international human rights law.