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JUDICIOUS REVIEW: THE CONSTITUTIONAL PRACTICE OF THE UK SUPREME COURT

  • Jo Eric Khushal Murkens

Abstract

The role of the UK Supreme Court (UKSC) as conventionally understood is to give effect to, and not to challenge, the will of Parliament. At the same time, the UK's constitution forces the UKSC to develop a constitutional jurisprudence to resolve clashes of higher-order principles, for instance between parliamentary sovereignty and the rule of law. This development puts the legitimacy of unelected and unaccountable judges invalidating legislation under the spotlight. Instead of arguing for US-style strike-down powers, I argue that cautious and corrective judicial intervention is constitutionally mandated and democratically legitimate.

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Corresponding author

*Address for Correspondence: London School of Economics and Political Science, Department of Law, Houghton St., London, WC2A 2AE, UK. Email: j.e.murkens@lse.ac.uk.

Footnotes

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I am grateful to Conor Gearty, Eric Heinze, Roger Masterman, and Gavin Phillipson for their comments. All errors are mine.

Footnotes

References

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1 See generally Robertson, D., The Judge as Political Theorist: Contemporary Constitutional Review (Princeton, NJ 2010), 6.

2 See generally Gee, G. et al. , The Politics of Judicial Independence in the UK's Changing Constitution (Cambridge 2015).

3 Posner, R.A., “Legal Reasoning from the Top Down and from the Bottom Up: The Question of Unenumerated Constitutional Rights” (1992) 59 U.Chi.L.Rev. 433.

4 Sedley, S., “Human Rights a Twenty-First Century Agenda” [1995] P.L. 386, at 389.

5 Robertson, The Judge as Political Theorist, p. 7.

6 Gordon, M., Parliamentary Sovereignty in the UK Constitution: Process, Politics and Democracy (Oxford 2015), 236.

7 Kahn, P.W., The Cultural Study of Law: Reconstructing Legal Scholarship (Chicago 1999), 78.

8 Bickel, A., The Least Dangerous Branch: The Supreme Court at the Bar of Politics, 2nd ed. (New Haven 1986).

9 Waldon, J., “The Core Case Against Judicial Review” (2006) 155 Yale L.J. 1346.

10 Hart, H.L.A., “American Jurisprudence through English Eyes” in Essays in Jurisprudence and Philosophy (Oxford 1983), 125.

11 Ely, J.H., Democracy and Distrust: A theory of judicial review (Cambridge, MA 1980), 45.

12 Perry, M., The Courts, the Constitution, and Human Rights (New Haven 1982), 9.

13 Dworkin, R., “Political Judges and the Rule of Law” in A Matter of Principle (Cambridge, MA 1985) 9, 1112; Rawls, J., Political Liberalism (New York 1993), 212–54.

14 Rawls, Political Liberalism.

15 Richards, D.A.J., Toleration and the Constitution (New York 1986), 1419.

16 Craig, P.P., Competing Models of Judicial Review, in Forsyth, C. (ed.), Judicial Review and the Constitution (Oxford 2000), 392.

17 Elliott, M., The Constitutional Foundations of Judicial Review (Oxford 2001), ch. 4.

18 R. v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Simms and O'Brien [1999] UKHL 33, [2000] 2 A.C. 115, 130, per Lord Steyn and 131, per Lord Hoffmann.

19 Sedley, S., “The Common Law and the Constitution” in Nolan, M.P. and Sedley, S. (eds), The Making and Remaking of the British Constitution (London 1997), 25. See also A and X. v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Belmarsh detainees) [2004] UKHL 56, [2005] 2 A.C. 68, at [237], per Lady Hale; R. (Countryside Alliance) v Attorney General [2007] UKHL 52, [2008] 1 A.C. 719, at [158], per Lord Brown; R. (Alconbury) v Secretary of State for the Environment [2001] UKHL 23, [2001] 2 All E.R. 929, at [70], per Lord Hoffmann.

20 Bickel, The Least Dangerous Branch, p. 18.

21 Young, A.L., Democratic Dialogue and the Constitution (Oxford 2017), 66.

22 Tomkins, A., Public Law (Oxford 2003), 210.

23 Bell, J., Policy Arguments in Judicial Decisions (Oxford 1983), 910.

24 Hutchinson, A.C., “The Rule of Law Revisited: Democracy and Courts” in Dyzenhaus, D. (ed.), Recrafting the Rule of Law: The Limits of Legal Order (Oxford 1999), 202.

25 Bell, Policy Arguments in Judicial Decisions, p. 270.

26 Bickel, The Least Dangerous Branch, p. 25.

27 R. (Nicklinson) v Ministry of Justice [2014] UKSC 38, [2015] 1 A.C. 657, at [300], per Lady Hale.

28 Kahn, The Cultural Study of Law, p. 78.

29 Bickel, The Least Dangerous Branch, p. 239.

30 Kahn, The Cultural Study of Law, p. 15, emphasis added.

31 Hutchinson, “The Rule of Law Revisited”, pp. 218–19.

32 Bickel, The Least Dangerous Branch, p. 109.

33 Shapiro, M., Courts: A Comparative and Political Analysis (Chicago 1981), 66.

34 Shapiro, M., “Judicial Independence: New Challenges in Established Nations” (2013) 20 Ind.J.Global Legal Studies 253, at 257.

35 Shapiro, Courts, p. 66.

36 Crow, J., Building the Judiciary: Law, Courts, and the Politics of Institutional Development (Princeton, NJ 2012), 8.

37 S. Freeman, “Constitutional Democracy and the Legitimacy of Judicial Review” (1990–1991) 9 Law & Phil. 327, at 328.

38 Ibid., at p. 337.

39 Ibid., at p. 336.

40 Ibid., at p. 350.

41 Ibid.

42 Ibid., at p. 353.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid.

45 Ibid., at pp. 367–68.

46 Alfange, D., The Supreme Court and the National Will (Garden City, NY 1937), 235.

47 See generally Caldeira, G.A. and Gibson, J.L., “The Etiology of Public Support for the Supreme Court” (1992) 36 A.J.P.S. 635.

48 Alexy, R., “Balancing, Constitutional Review, and Representation” (2005) 3(4) I.J.C.L. 572, at 578.

49 Eisgruber, C.L., Constitutional Self-Government (Cambridge, MA 2001), 48.

50 Ibid., at p. 48.

51 Ibid., at p. 52.

52 Ibid., at p. 77.

53 Dworkin, R.M., Law's Empire (London 1986), 6568.

54 Ely, Democracy a nd Discontent, p. 87.

55 Eisgruber, Constitutional Self-Government, p. 78; see also pp. 7, 52, 126; Kahn, The Cultural Study of Law, p. 80.

56 Scheppele, K.L., “Declarations of Independence: Judicial Reactions to Political Pressure” in Burbank, S.B. and Friedman, B. (eds), Judicial Independence at the Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Approach (Thousand Oaks, Ca. 2002), 227, 245.

57 Rubenfeld, J., “Of Constitutional Self-Government” (2003) 1555 Faculty Scholarship Series Paper 1749, at 1751–52.

58 Eisgruber, Constitutional Self-Government, p. 126.

59 Rubenfeld, “Of Constitutional Self-Government”, p. 1754.

60 Alexy, “Balancing”, p. 579; Alexy, R., “Comments and Responses” in Klatt, M. (ed.), Institutionalized Reason: The Jurisprudence of Robert Alexy (Oxford 2012), 338.

61 Rosanvallon, P., Democratic Legitimacy: Impartiality, Reflexivity, Proximity (Princeton, NJ 2011), 7.

62 Crouch, P., Post-Democracy (Cambridge 2004); Loughlin, M., Foundations of Public Law (Oxford 2010), ch. 15; Mair, P., Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy (London 2013).

63 Rosanvallon, Democratic Legitimacy, p. 92.

64 Ibid., at pp. 7, 95, 97.

65 Ibid., at p. 114.

66 Ibid., at p. 6.

67 Ibid., at p. 11.

68 Ibid., at pp. 140–41.

69 Ibid., at pp. 130–31, 140.

70 Ibid., at pp. 12–13.

71 Ibid., at p. 114.

72 Ibid., at p. 140.

73 Pettit, P., “Depoliticizing Democracy” (2004) 17 Ratio Juris 52, at 61.

74 Kahn, The Cultural Study of Law, pp. 78–80.

75 Rosanvallon, Democratic Legitimacy, p. 143.

76 Ibid., at pp. 144–45.

77 Ibid., at p. 141.

78 Kahn, The Cultural Study of Law, p. 125.

79 Rosanvallon, Democratic Legitimacy, p. 142.

80 Thompson, D.F., “Democracy in Time: Popular Sovereignty and Temporal Representation” (2005) 12 Constellations 245, at 246.

81 Ibid., at p. 246.

82 Rosanvallon, Democratic Legitimacy, p. 142.

83 Ibid., at p. 145.

84 Weber, M., “Parliament and Government in Germany under a New Political Order” in Lassman, P. and Speirs, R. (eds.), Weber: Political Writings (Cambridge 1994), 148–49.

85 Ibid.

86 Hutchinson, “The Rule of Law Revisited”, p. 216.

87 Fish, S., Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies (Durham, NC 1989), 366–67.

88 R. (Daly) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2001] UKHL 26, [2001] 2 A.C. 532, at [30], per Lord Cooke of Thorndon.

89 Lady Hale, “The Supreme Court in the United Kingdom Constitution”, The Bryce Lecture, Oxford, 5 February 2015, p. 18.

90 Jackson v Attorney General [2005] UKHL 56, [2006] A.C. 262; decided by the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords as the predecessor of the UKSC.

91 See also R. (on the application of E) v Governing Body of JFS [2009] UKSC 1, [2010] 1 All E.R. 1; and the discussion by McCrudden, C., “Multiculturalism, Freedom of Religion, Equality, and the British Constitution: The JFS Case Considered” (2011) 9 I.J.C.L. 200.

92 Jackson [2005] UKHL 56, [2006] A.C. 262, at [101]–[102], per Lord Steyn.

93 Ibid., at para. [102].

94 Ibid., at para. [107].

95 Ibid., at para. [159].

96 AXA General Insurance Limited v The Lord Advocate [2011] UKSC 46, [2012] 1 A.C. 868, at [51], per Lord Hope and at [149], per Lord Reed. The comments were made in the context of Acts of the Scottish Parliament, but were sufficiently abstract to apply to the Westminster Parliament as well.

97 Allan, T.R.S., “Questions of Legality and Legitimacy: Form and Substance in British Constitutionalism” (2011) 9 I.J.C.L. 155.

98 R. (Evans) v Attorney General [2015] UKSC 21, [2015] 1 A.C. 1787.

99 Freedom of Information Act 2000, section 53(2).

100 R. (Evans) [2015] UKSC 21, [2015] 1 A.C. 1787, [52].

101 Ibid., at para. [69].

102 Lord Mance, with whom Lady Hale agreed, took an orthodox administrative law approach to an executive decision, which I do not discuss here.

103 R. (Evans) [2015] UKSC 21, [2015] 1 A.C. 1787, at [154].

104 Ibid., at para. [168].

105 T.R.S. Allan, “Law, Democracy, and Constitutionalism: Reflections on Evans v Attorney General ” [2016] C.L.J. 38, at 39. For criticism even of Lord Mance's moderate and administrative law based approach (it “does not attend to the importance of the political constitution”), see Ekins, R. and Forsyth, C., Judging the Public Interest (London 2015), 20.

106 R. (Evans) [2015] UKSC 21, [2015] 1 A.C. 1787, at [115], per Lord Neuberger.

107 Ibid., at paras. [53]–[57].

108 Mendes, C. Hübner, Constitutional Courts and Deliberative Democracy (Oxford 2013), 3.

109 Independent Commission on Freedom of Information Report, 1 March 2016, Recommendation 13.

110 R. (Unison) v Lord Chancellor [2017] UKSC 51.

111 Ibid., at para. [65].

112 Ibid., at para. [66].

113 Ibid., at para. [68].

114 Donoghue v Stevenson [1932] A.C. 562.

115 R. (Unison) [2017] UKSC 51, at [69].

116 Ibid., at para. [70]

117 Ibid., at para. [74]: “We will sell to no man, we will not deny or defer to any man either Justice or Right.”

118 Ibid., at paras. [74], [75].

119 Ibid., at para. [65].

120 Osborn v Parole Board [2013] UKSC 61, [2014] 1 A.C. 1115; A v BBC [2014] UKSC 25, [2015] 1 A.C. 588.

121 R. (HS2 Action Alliance Ltd.) v The Secretary of State for Transport [2014] UKSC 3, [2014] 2 All E.R. 109; R. (Miller) v Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017] UKSC 5, [2017] 2 W.L.R. 583.

122 S. Stephenson, “The Supreme Court's Renewed Interest in Autochthonous Constitutionalism” [2015] P.L. 394; see also Masterman, R. and Wheatle, S., “A Common Law Resurgence in Rights Protection?” (2015) 1 E.H.R.L.R. 57.

123 R. (Unison) [2017] UKSC 51, at [87], [98].

124 R. v Secretary of State for the Home Department, ex parte Leech [1994] Q.B. 198.

125 R. (Daly) [2001] UKHL 26, [2001] 1 A.C. 532.

126 R. (Unison) [2017] UKSC 51, at [80], [88].

127 M. Elliott, “Unison in the Supreme Court: Tribunal Fees, Constitutional Rights and the Rule of Law”, available at < https://publiclawforeveryone.com>, 26 July 2017.

128 R. (HS2 Action Alliance Ltd.) [2014] UKSC 3, [2014] 2 All E.R. 109.

129 Ibid., at para. [208], per Lord Neuberger and Lord Mance.

130 R. (Unison) [2017] UKSC 51, at [68], [71].

131 R. (Nicklinson) [2014] UKSC 38, [2015] 1 A.C. 657.

132 Ibid., at paras. [76], [191], [299], [326].

133 At [120], per Lord Neuberger; at [188], per Lord Mance.

134 At [118], per Lord Neuberger; at [190], per Lord Mance; at [202], per Lord Wilson.

135 One factor that helps explain why no declaration was issued in the current proceedings is Lord Falconer's Assisted Dying for the Terminally Ill Bill 2013, which was being actively considered by Parliament at the time of the UKSC's decision.

136 See generally E. Wicks, “The Supreme Court Judgment in Nicklinson: One Step Forward on Assisted Dying; Two Steps Back on Human Rights” (2014) 23 Med.L.Rev. 144, at 145.

137 R. (Nicklinson) [2014] UKSC 38, [2015] 1 A.C. 657, at [114], per Lord Neuberger and at [202], per Lord Wilson.

138 Wicks, “The Supreme Court Judgment in Nicklinson”, p. 155; See also R. English, “‘No Precedent? Then Set One!’ – Nicklinson Right to Die Case’, UK Human Rights Blog, 20 August 2012.”

139 R. (Nicklinson) [2014] UKSC 38, [2015] 1 A.C. 657, at [232].

140 Ibid., at para. [230].

141 At [259], [267], per Lord Hughes.

142 J. Sumption, “Judicial and Political Decision-Making: The Uncertain Boundary – the FA Mann Lecture” (2011) 16 J.R. 301. See also Lord Sumption, “The Limits of Law”, 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Lecture, Kuala Lumpur, 20 November 2013; Lord Sumption, “Anxious Scrutiny”, Administrative Law Bar Association Annual Lecture, 4 November 2014.

143 See also the contributions made by Policy Exchange and the Judicial Power Project.

144 Sumption, “Judicial and Political Decision-Making”, p. 309.

145 Ibid., at pp. 312–13.

146 Osborn [2013] UKSC 61, [2014] 1 A.C. 1115; Kennedy v Charity Commission [2014] UKSC 20, [2015] A.C. 455.

147 R. (Nicklinson) [2014] UKSC 38, [2015] 1 A.C. 657, at [70]–[76].

148 Ibid., at paras. [94]–[97].

149 Ibid., at para. [98].

150 Ibid., at para. [100].

151 Ibid., at para. [104].

152 Ibid.

153 Ibid., at para. [111].

154 Ibid., at para. [116].

155 At the time of writing the High Court had begun to hear Mr. Noel Conway's challenge to the blanket ban on assisted suicide.

156 In re G (Adoption: Unmarried Couple) [2008] UKHL 38, [2009] 1 A.C. 173, at [130].

157 R. (Nicklinson) [2014] UKSC 38, [2015] 1 A.C. 657, at [163], per Lord Mance.

158 Ibid., at para. [164], per Lord Mance.

159 Wicks, “The Supreme Court Judgement in Nicklinson”, p. 152.

160 R. (Nicklinson) [2014] UKSC 38, [2015] 1 A.C. 657, at [191].

161 Lord Mance cites with approval Lord Bingham's dicta in A. v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2005] 2 A.C. 68, at [42]: “the function of independent judges charged to interpret and apply the law is universally recognised as a cardinal feature of the modern democratic state, a cornerstone of the rule of law itself. The Attorney General is fully entitled to insist on the proper limits of judicial authority, but he is wrong to stigmatise judicial decision-making as in some way undemocratic.”

162 R. (Nicklinson) [2014] UKSC 38, [2015] 1 A.C. 657, at [267].

163 Ibid., at para. [112].

164 Metaphor borrowed and adapted from Peters, C.J., A Matter of Dispute: Morality, Democracy, and Law (Oxford 2011), 224.

165 Ibid.

I am grateful to Conor Gearty, Eric Heinze, Roger Masterman, and Gavin Phillipson for their comments. All errors are mine.

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