By Jonathan Hew

The Supreme Court is the highest court in the UK and the final resting place for civil and criminal appeals. Lord Neuberger, the President of the UK Supreme Court, has set out his views on the role and function of the court that may prove useful guidance if you are considering an appeal.

On 4 December 2015, Lord Neuberger made a speech at the Centre for Commercial Law Studies Conference 2015 entitled “UK Supreme Court decisions on private and commercial law: The role of public policy and public interest”.

Although Lord Neuberger made the speech in an extra-judicial capacity, and it is therefore not legally binding, he made a number of points that will be of interest to parties contemplating an appeal to the Supreme Court.

In particular:

  • Lord Neuberger described the role of the Court of Appeal as being “to do justice in individual cases for the benefit of individual parties, or to correct any errors which may have been made by lower courts”.
  • In contrast, the role of the Supreme Court is “to take an appeal only of it raises one or more points of general public importance”. In that connection, the Supreme Court’s function is “to clarify, correct, declare and develop”.
    • Clarification is needed when decisions in the lower courts have left the law in a state of uncertainty or doubt.
    • Correction is required where the lower courts have gone wrong on an issue of law of significance. Note that the issue of law must be “of significance”. This sets the Supreme Court apart from the Court of Appeal in so far as correction of the law is concerned.
    • Declarations arise when a new and significant point of law comes to light, often in relation to a new statutory provision.
    • Development is appropriate where, although the law is clear, it has become outdated and needs to be changed.
  • The Supreme Court’s “ultimate aim is to seek to produce judgments, whose reasoning is clear, concise and principled and whose outcomes are clear, just and practical”.

These points provide useful guidance on the circumstances under which the Supreme Court will grant permission to appeal.

Given the significant cost that can be incurred in making an application to appeal, and the limited number of cases that the Supreme Court takes on (of the 231 applications received in 2014-2015 only 88, or 38%, were granted), applicants should ensure that the matters in issue are both capable in substance of engaging the role and functions of the Court and that such matters are framed appropriately.

If you found this interesting, you can read the full speech here