The Supreme Court has recently replaced the House of Lords as the highest court in the United Kingdom. The reason for the introduction of the Supreme Court was the fact that it was felt that there needed to be a more clear distinction between the legislature and the courts.
‘Separation of powers’
The notion of a ‘separation of powers’ exists within the UK whereby it is felt that in order to have a true democratic system there needs to be a separation between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. Therefore, the idea of having a House of Lords as an essential part of the legislature and the highest court in the land appeared to defy the separation of powers principle.
It is important to note that there was no suggestion that that there was any link between the House of Lords the legislature and the House of Lords the judiciary. The separation of powers was in evidence previously, with the House of Lords legislature completely different to the House of Lords judiciary. Nevertheless, it was felt that they could appear to breach the principle and therefore it was best to replace the House of Lords Judiciary with the Supreme Court.
Law of precedent
As the highest court in the land the rulings of the Supreme Court are, of course, hugely important for all courts across the UK. A law of precedent operates within the UK meaning that should the House of Lords making a ruling in law then all courts in the UK should have to rule similarly should they be faced with a situation where the facts are similar to those faced in the House of Lords decision. As a result, every House of Lords decision has huge legal ramifications across the country.
In order to bring a claim in the Supreme Court you will generally have to appeal a decision of the Court of Appeal. As this can only be appealed on a point of law, the Supreme Court is not an overly crowded court in terms of the number of cases it has to deal with.
This is, of course, not the only reason why the Supreme Court is not accessible to most people; the costs of fighting a litigation action today can be very expensive in terms of lawyers’ fees, court fees and barristers’ costs. Running a claim to the Supreme Court, therefore, is likely to be extremely expensive.
This is heightened by the fact that, in most cases, before the Supreme Court the case will have to have been heard in the High Court and the Court of Appeal first.
This can lead to the costs of bringing the action all the way to the Supreme Court far outweighing the amount potentially in dispute.
Being the highest court in the land, the Supreme Court is obviously very prestigious and resides at Parliament Square in Westminster, London.
The Supreme Court’s decisions will bind many judges in other courts across the land on both civil and criminal matters. It is only in extremely exceptional circumstances that a lawyer will recommend running a case all the way to the High Court but its decisions will be felt at every level of the legal ladder.