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The Supreme Court opens as the new legal year begins

Date:1 OCT 2009

The new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom came into existence today and is now the highest court in the United Kingdom.

Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

Replacing the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, the Court's creation is a landmark moment in constitutional and legal development.

With the exception of the President and Deputy President, the judges will be known as 'Justices of the Supreme Court' and should be addressed as 'My Lord' or 'My Lady' in court. However, it is expected that the titles used in the House of Lords will continue to be used.

The new home of the Supreme Court is the former Middlesex Guildhall on Parliament Square which has been renovated over the past two years at a cost of around £60m. There are three courtrooms: two for the Supreme Court and one for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC). It will cost £14m to run annually, including the Justices salaries.

Established through the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the Supreme Court will hear civil appeal cases from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as criminal appeal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It takes over the devolution jurisdiction of the JCPC. The JCPC continues to be the final court of appeal for certain Commonwealth countries and other jurisdictions, such as Crown Dependencies.

One of the Court's fundamental aims is to be as transparent as possible in its judgments and proceedings. For the first time at any court in the United Kingdom, proceedings will be routinely filmed and made available to broadcasters.

Following the swearing in this morning, the Justices will process in their robes to Westminster Abbey to attend the annual service that marks the start of the new legal year in England and Wales.

Future Justices will be younger than the Law Lords of the past as they will be compelled to retire at 70. However, although exempt from the rule, five of the current Justices are over 70, including the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers.

To start with there will only be eleven Justices instead of twelve because of Lord Neuberger's appointment as Master of the Rolls. His successor has not yet been announced.

Speaking about the new Court, Lord Phillips said: "For the first time, we have a clear separation of powers between the legislature, the judiciary and the executive in the United Kingdom. This is important. It emphasises the independence of the judiciary, clearly separating those who make the law from those who administer it.

"As Justices of the Supreme Court we will be more visible to the public than we ever were when sitting as members of the House of Lords. This is desirable as the Court will only decide points of law of public importance. Justice at the highest level should be transparent and the new Court will have a crucial role in letting the public see how justice is done."

The Court will hear its first case on Monday 5 October and the first family law case will be heard on 14 October. Re B (a child) (2009) concerns the application of the welfare test under s.1 of the Children Act 1989 to a case involving a residence dispute between the father and the maternal grandmother.