So, with much fanfare (and a bill of £59m so far) the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom opens today. The media are reporting widely that this is the supreme court of appeal for British legal cases. But it isn't.
It's bad enough that the project of housing the Court has been quite so expensive, when the body it replaces simply sat in existing facilities in the House of Lords. It's even worse that the £59m is simply the construction and kitting-out bill, and the annual upkeep of the place will be at least £13.5 million more.
But worst of all is the fact that the "Supreme" Court is a bit of a sham. The proper name should be the Not-Supreme Court, or perhaps the Supreme-ish Court. This is because British law is not in fact supreme in our country, European law is.
Increasingly large numbers of cases, having been appealed to the Law Lords (who are now being replaced by the Supreme-ish Court), are being pursued further to the European Court of Human Rights or the European Court of Justice. When it comes to a conflict between Westminster and Strasbourg or Luxembourg, the so-called Supreme Court of the United Kingdon will have to roll over and do as it is told.
Indeed, even on the Supreme Court's own website under the heading 'The Supreme Court and Europe', the institution admits that from the outset it won't be supreme at all:
As the highest court of appeal in the United Kingdom, The Supreme Court will act as the final arbiter on cases. Occasionally, The Court will be called upon to interpret European law and the European Convention on Human Rights as they relate to our domestic laws.
Under European law, member states’ courts should always make their rulings according to principles laid down in relevant decisions by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
If The Supreme Court is considering a case where interpretation of an ECJ decision is unclear, the Justices can refer the question to the ECJ for clarification. They will then base their own decision on this answer.
In cases relating to the European Convention on Human Rights, it is accepted that no national court should “without strong reason dilute or weaken the effect of the Strasbourg case law” (Lord Bingham of Cornhill in R (Ullah) v Special Adjudicator (2004)).
If human rights principles seem to have been breached, it may be possible to appeal to the European Court after all avenues of appeal in the United Kingdom have been exhausted, or The Supreme Court has no jurisdiction in this particular case.
Isn't it a bit of mockery to call this the Supreme Court, in part to accentuate its pomp and circumstance and in part to justify its massive budget, when in fact it can be appealed against, over-ruled and dictated to by courts elsewhere?