The most senior judge in Britain, Lord Neuberger, has given his opinions in the ongoing debate surrounding the role of European courts in the UK. In particular, he has described the concept of such courts overruling UK parliamentary decisions as “little short of offensive.”
The statements came in a speech regarding the way many Britons resent interference in UK affairs from European bodies. The speech particularly highlighted UK antagonism towards the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) and its judges.
Lord Neuberger described court interference in parliamentary decisions of any kind as being “little short of offensive to our notions of constitutional propriety.” He said the fact that the courts in question were “not even British” made this even more true. He was referring to certain powers belonging to the Luxembourg Court and the Strasbourg Court.
While Lord Neuberger was willing to state some of his opinions categorically, he ultimately avoided choosing a side in the debate.
Lord Neuberger highlighted that the British seemed to be more resentful and suspicious of pan-European bodies and their role in national affairs than those in other EU countries. He suggested that this particular distrust and dislike could be at least partly rooted in historical grounds. Neuberger pointed out that the UK has not been occupied by a foreign power in the last 950 years. His belief is that this means that British people have less of a grasp than their European counterparts on “the need to lose a degree of autonomy for the sake of increasing the prospects of peace in Europe.”
He also suggested that the idea of courts interfering in national affairs was considered more offensive by British people than by those in other nations. The UK’s concepts of parliamentary sovereignty and the fact that Britain has no written constitution has prevented courts in the past from delivering judgements that contradict parliamentary affairs. The result, Lord Neuberger says, is a distinctly British concept that “it is unacceptable for ‘unelected judges to impose a diktat’ on a democratically elected parliament.” By contrast, Lord Neuberger states that most countries accept the idea of independent judges acting as a control on legislation sometimes, especially since they have no need to worry about being re-elected.
Ultimately, Lord Neuberger expressed little in the way of a definite position for or against the idea of courts playing a role in parliamentary affairs at times. However, he did seem to suggest that it should not be dismissed as something automatically to be avoided. Lord Neuberger said. “Our legal story is not one of splendid isolation but rather of splendid synthesis. The flow of legal ideas and concepts between Britain and mainland Europe has been and is a two-way process.”