New Supreme Court justices divide opinion

Litigation

Katy Dowell, senior reporter, The Lawyer

The Ministry of Justice confirmed the appointment of Lord Justice Wilson and Brick Court Chambers’ Jonathan Sumption QC as Supreme Court justices this month (4 May).

The announcement came as little surprise within the Inns of Court, where rumours of their elevation had been circulating for months.

Wilson LJ will succeed Lord Saville, who announced his retirement last year following the completion of his Bloody Sunday inquiry. He stood down in October and Wilson LJ will take up his post officially at the end of May, although he is already hearing matters in the Supreme Court.

Sumption’s start date is yet to be confirmed as he is officially instructed to act for Chelsea Football Club owner Roman Abramovich in his multibillion-pound dispute with rival oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

When he does take up the position, Sumption will replace Lord Collins who is retiring later this month (May). In the meantime, Lord Collins will sit as an additional Supreme Court judge when required. 

News of Sumption’s promotion has split the profession. It is the first time an advocate has leapfrogged both the High Court and Court of Appeal to join the Supreme Court and is a sign of his top-level career at the bar.

Advocates have welcomed the appointment, suggesting it gives the Supreme Court bench a new dynamic which will better enable it to understand advocates.

Critics, however, argue that Sumption has been allowed to delay his own appointment so he can collect a bumper pay-packet from the Abramovich matter.

One commentator on TheLawyer. com wrote: “This is a disgraceful state of affairs. Mr Sumption either wants to be a judge or he does not.”

Brick Court hit back at the critics, highlighting that the bar code of conduct would have prevented Sumption from taking any new instruction once he was informed by the MoJ of his successful application.

As justices in the country’s highest court, Sumption and Wilson LJ will collect annual salaries of £206,857, significantly less than a top silk’s pay.

President of the court Lord Phillips said: “Lord Justice Wilson will prove a valuable asset to this court as another judge with a family law background, whose skill and knowledge has shone through all his judgments at the Court of Appeal.

“Jonathan Sumption is widely acknowledged to be one of this country’s leading advocates. He has demonstrated incisive intellectual rigour throughout his years as a barrister.”