July 17, 2024

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UK Supreme Court flexes judicial muscles with Rwanda ruling

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The UK Supreme Court’s ruling that the government’s Rwanda migrant removal scheme is unlawful has shown it can still be a thorn in the side of ministers, despite a reputation in recent years for judicial conservatism.

The unanimous decision, announced by court president Lord Robert Reed last week, dealt a blow to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s policy aimed at halting irregular Channel crossings ahead of the general election expected next year.

It also demonstrated that Britain’s highest court remains ready to curb executive authority, even after the exit in 2020 of Reed’s predecessor Lady Brenda Hale.

Her interventionist image was cemented four years ago when she led the court in blocking then premier Boris Johnson’s attempt to push through his Brexit deal by suspending parliament just before the UK was set to leave the EU.

Protesters and journalists outside the Supreme Court after its Rwanda judgment last week © Leon Neal/Getty Images

The court’s only woman president was replaced upon her retirement a few months later by its first Scot. Reed, a softly spoken former Edinburgh advocate, prefers to keep a lower profile than Hale, an ex-Law Commissioner who was once criticised in the Daily Mail for her “reforming zeal”.

Several legal experts said the court, which was set up in 2009, had exercised greater restraint since Reed took the helm, being more prone to reject human rights claims and rule in favour of public authorities.

Sir Robert Buckland KC, former Conservative justice secretary, said there had been a change in “atmosphere” after the departure of Hale, who was “quite a judicial activist”.

He voiced concern that UK courts had imposed their own “moral judgment” in some cases over the years, and said he had been “pleased” to see a more cautious “direction of travel”.

Lewis Graham, Law Society fellow in Law at Wadham College, Oxford university, said a pattern of decisions since 2020 and the legal reasoning behind them amounted to…

2023-11-25 08:00:54

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