United Kingdom’s Supreme Court, London

by Andrada Costoiu

Across the street from Westminster Abbey is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. I wouldn’t have known, if I had not been attracted by the beautiful façade.

This building has a symbolic location, chosen to represent the separation of powers in the UK.  It is located in the Parliament Square, on the south-west corner. On one side there is the Parliament and the judiciary (this building) and on the other side there is the executive (the Treasury) and the church (Westminster Abbey).  This building was built between 1912 and 1913.  

The court is open to the public, so you can visit anytime Monday-Friday, between 9.30- 16.30. If the court is in session, you could also observe cases!  

Pleasantly surprised, I enjoyed this visit very much. It was especially educative, as I wasn’t familiar with the court system in the UK! I found out that it is very different from the one we have in the USA. 

USA and UK Supreme Courts compared

The longevity

I was surprised to find out how young the UK Supreme Court was! 

The US Supreme Court was established in 1790, its existence provided for the founding documents of the United States. Its presence is firmly established in the consciousness of the American public….which prompts my surprise to find out that the UK Supreme Court had only arrived in the UK judicial scene in 2009! This was almost baffling! But I guess it was only then that the judiciary separated from the Parliament. Up until then, the Law Lords, that played the key role in developing the common law in the UK, was not totally separated from the government. 

Cases they handle 

Both courts are the highest appellate courts in their jurisdiction of domestic law. They hear cases of great importance and only a limited number of cases each year.

The Constitution and the absence of a written Constitution 

The US Supreme Court enjoys a higher domestic profile than does the UK Supreme Court. That is because the US Supreme Court is a fully fledged constitutional court.  However, Britain does not have a codified constitution but an unwritten one formed of Acts of Parliament.  In the absence of a written constitution that sets out clear constraints on the role of the UK Parliament, the UK Supreme Court is limited in comparison with its American counterpart. 

The Judges election

In the United States all federal judges must be nominated for appointment by the President.  They are appointed for life and there is no retirement age. 

In the UK they are elected by a committee and then they are recommended to the monarch for the appointment. They are required to retire at the  age of 70, although they may continue to serve until they are 75.

The number of judges appointed to the US Supreme Court varies over time. Currently there are nine Justices: the Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices. In the United Kingdom there are 12 judges.

UK Supreme Court judges

The building is beautiful inside.  The courtrooms are adorned with beautiful paintings and art work.

At the lower floor there is an exhibition that details the history of the court and that presents artifacts.

This visit enhanced my understanding of the UK’s judiciary system and it enabled me to compare the way it operates with our own judicial system.  I am grateful for this visit and I think if you’re in town you should go too!


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