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The 10 important judgments of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom would throw light on the vitality and diversity of matters that are dealt with by the newly constituted apex court of constitutional democracy. Established in 2009, the UK SC has played a pivotal role in saving constitutional principles and democracy.
Established on 1st of October, 2009, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom marked a shift from the earlier existing Judicial Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. The Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 ushered into this new regime which tended to move towards a better model of separation between legislature and executive.
Since, its establishment, the Constitutional Court has rendered various important judgment, some of which would be discussed in the coming article. These judgments are not the only landmark but also recent and have far-reaching consequences in the judicial precedential history of the common law.
1. R. v. Secretary of State for International Development
Citation:  UKSC 32
A different-sex couple wanted to enter into a civil partnership instead of marriage. The two people had serious ideological objections to being married given the patriarchal nature of marriage.
But, the Civil Partnership Act of 2004 allowed only people of same-sex to enter into a civil partnership. Though same-sex marriage was legalised in 2013 through the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Act, 2013, but the 2004 Act was not repealed.
Hence, the couple in question sought changes to the 2004 Act to allow them too to enter into a civil partnership.
Whether the restriction imposed upon the different sex couple to enter into civil partnership the right of the prohibition against discrimination and right to respect for private life, granted under the European Convention of Human Rights [ECHR] (Article 14 and Article 8 respectively)?
The court answered the question raised in affirmative and found the rights of the different sex couple getting violated since:-
- Though the legislature should be allowed time to deal with evolving societal attitudes, it cannot be an excuse to create inequality.
- Interference with an ECHR right is permitted only with a four-stage test- 1)Sufficient legislative object to limit fundamental right 2)Measures to meet the object rationally connected to it 3)The measures are necessary to accomplish the objective 4)a fair balance is achieved between rights of individual and interests of the community.
- No legitimate aim deductible since there is a discriminatory treatment at the outset. The consequences of denial to the couple have far-reaching consequences on their rights but the interests of the community involved are unspecified.
The court concluded that Section 1 and 3 of the Civil Partnership Act, 2004 precluding the different sex couple from entering into the model of a civil partnership is against Article 14 and Article 8, as mentioned above.
2. R. v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union
Citation:  UKSC 5
In the month of June of 2016, by a popular referendum, the British people by a majority decision to leave the European Union (EU).
Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union provides that in the situation of withdrawal, the member state must serve a notice of that intention, in accordance with its constitutional requirements. Once such notice is served, within two years, the EU treaties shall cease to govern that member state.
The European Communities Act, 1972 [ECA] also had to be properly interpreted since the UK’s obligations to the EU were being given domestic effect through this Act.
Whether the Notice of Withdrawal can be given lawfully by Government ministers without prior authorisation by the act of Parliament? Also, whether the consent of the devolved legislatures is also required?
By a majority of 8 to 3, it was held that an act of the Parliament is required for issuing such notice of withdrawal under the constitutional regime of the UK. The reasoning was:
The withdrawal from the EU would amount to a change in the UK’s legal regime since EU Treaties also amounted to a source of the law earlier. The withdrawal would also take away existing domestic rights from UK residents.
Parliament did not authorise the ministers in the ECA to withdraw without the approval of the Parliament.
The European Union Referendum Act of 2015 only provided for a referendum without any consequences. UK Constitution permits the only way to implement a change in law through the implementation of the referendum would be through legislation
3. R. v. The Prime Minister
Citation:  EWHC 2381 (QB)
In August 2019, the Prime Minister, Mr Boris Johnson gave advice to the Queen to prorogue the Parliament within 9th to 12th September 2019. A Privy Council meeting was also being held at the Balmoral Castle with the Queen.
The Lord Chancellor was accordingly asked to issue a commission for proroguing Parliament. The prorogation is basically to bring the current session to an end and the next session resumes after the Queen’s Speech.
But Parliament cannot decide when to prorogue. It is only the prerogative power of the Crown to be exercised after the requisite advice is taken from the Privy Council.
The UK legislature passed European Union (Withdrawal) (No 2) Act preventing the UK to leave the EU without a withdrawal agreement as on 31st October 2019.
Whether the PM’s advice to the Queen is lawful? What are the limits to the prerogative power to prorogue? Whether it is justiciable for the Courts to decide?
- The matter was found to be justiciable since the courts have been exercising supervisory jurisdiction since 1611 over the acts of the Government.
- Parliamentary sovereignty and Parliamentary accountability are two essential principles of constitutional democracy which are being whittled down by this prorogation.
- If the Parliament is frustrated from performing its constitutional duty, then such prorogation is unlawful. The motive of the Prime Minister is immaterial but the reason is important.
- This prorogation prevented Parliament from performing its essential constitutional function to debate over the necessary constitutional change.
Thus, the Speaker of the House of Commons and the Lord Speaker was required to assemble the Houses and put a way out.
4. Advocate General for Scotland v Romein
Citation:  UKSC 6
The respondent was born in the United States and claimed UK citizenship through descent from the mother’ side. Though her mother was born in South Africa her father was a UK citizen.
This was done because the British Nationality Act of 1948 had a specific stipulation of only the male descent to be applicable for citizenship.
But the 1981 Act removed this restriction, but further, the respondent was born in 1978 hence she was not allowed to take the benefit of the change in the law.
Whether the claims of citizenship through female descent could be allowed in the changed regime of law?
The court found the exclusion of female descent as a “curious survivor” of social and political priorities. Thus, the registration process would be deemed inapplicable where the descent was through the mother’s side.
The court simply said that “past was done and could not be undone”. Hence, no benefit of changed law was given to the respondent.
5. Secretary of State for the Home Department v. Vomero
Citation:  UKSC 35
An Italian National came to the UK in 1985 at the age of 28, he lived as a UK resident and also spent five years in prison for manslaughter from 2001 to 2006.
In 2007, a decision of deportation on the grounds of public policy was taken by the Secretary of State. But, the Court of Appeal gave him enhanced protection from deportation on the ground that he had been living for more than 10 years before the deportation decision.
Whether the EU National acquired a right to permanent residence and thus protection from deportation?
The court ruled that there existed no right to permanent residence since the convict underwent imprisonment from 2001 to 2006. Thus, there is no continuous residence hence no protection can be awarded to the accused.
6. Miller v. Ministry of Justice
Citation:  UKSC 60
The appellants were the part-time fee-paid judges, now retired, who moved the court for less favourable treatment from the full time qualified judges since they were being excluded from the judicial pension.
But the regulations (Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 reg.8(2),) in the domestic law of the UK imposed a time limit of three months to bring such application.
Whether the part-time judges were eligible to get the judicial pension?
The Court held them eligible to get the pension since:
The Judicial Pensions and Retirement Act 1993 gives the right to a pension to the one who occupied a qualifying judicial office. The court found this term composite to include different types of appointments.
The appellants could have raised the plea while in office but this right of them to not get any less favourable treatment would not get detracted if they are retired.
7. Cameron v. Liverpool Victoria Insurance Co. Ltd.
Citation:  UKSC 6
A motorist was left injured in an accident of hit and run collision. The car could be identified but the driver could not be so. Thus, the lower court allowed this motorist to bring the proceedings against this “unknown” person even though the same was not found.
An insurer appealed against the said decision.
Whether the court can take jurisdiction of a matter where the defendant could not be served the notice to appear?
- The court did emphasize upon cases where either the defendant is anonymous, could not be found, or he/ she is identifiable but his/ her name is not known.
- In the first case, though the service of notice is difficult, a person cannot be brought within the jurisdiction of a court without having such notice of the proceedings as would enable him to be heard.
- Through alternative service, it could reasonably be expected to come to the defendant’s attention.
Thus, the court said that the motorist is not entitled to bring the claim of such a nature.
8. Royal Mail Ltd v. Jhuti
Citation;  UKSC 55
An employee was being removed from the service by the employer. Interestingly, the reason was being disclosed by the employer.
The employee claimed that such dismissal was unfair. The lower court found that the employer actually felt that the employee’s performance was tainted thus liable to be dismissed.
Whether in a case of unfair dismissal, a reason can be other than the one given by the employer to the employee.
The court found that the employer had invented a reason to dismiss the employee from the service and that the real reason was being hidden behind this artificial reason.
The court cannot allow such reasons and can penetrate into the actual reason behind dismissal from service. The employer was having a state of mind that a person placed at a higher hierarchy is usually expected to have.
9. Attorney General for Northern Ireland’s Reference of Devolution Issues to the Supreme Court Pursuant to Paragraph 34 of Schedule 10 to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 (No.2), Re
Citation:  UKSC 1
In Northern Ireland, the Assembly and the Executive Committee had stopped functioning since January 2017. Because of this halt, the decisions which the ministers should have taken were being left at the hands of civil servants.
Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Act 2018 was also enacted by the Parliament to govern the situation in the absence of the Assembly and the Ministries. But the Advocate General sought legal clarification from the court.
Whether the reference sought by the Attorney General were devolution issues arising out of the act so mentioned above?
The court adjourned the matter on the ground of the constitutional principle that a similar matter was pending in the previous litigation concerning the electricity interconnector between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Thus, the Attorney was given the power to intervene.
10. Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission’s Application for Judicial Review, Re
Citation:  UKSC 27
The Court of Appeal of Northern Ireland refused to hold the Northern Ireland Abortion law against the European Convention of Human Rights.
Abortion had been penalised in Northern Ireland through the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 s.58 and s.59 and the Criminal Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 1945. But in cases of serious and fatal abnormality, rape and incest, there was no relief.
The Northern Ireland Commission on Human Rights appealed against this decision in the Supreme Court.
Whether the said abortion law is incompatible with the ECHR?
- The Commission cannot bring a case when there is not an identifiable victim. The commission’s role was only in giving assistance to the Parliament while enacting the law.
- But the court found the incompatibility with the right to respect life protected under Article 8 of ECHR as far as the fatal foetal abnormality was concerned.
- A woman could not be expected to complete the term of pregnancy in such a case and also the balance of the rights of the individual as against the society could not be specified.
Thus, the abortion law was found incompatible with that of ECHR only on limited grounds.
Such a wide spectrum of cases shows how vast jurisdictional authority has been taken by the UK SC in their hands.
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