New Master of the Rolls (Updated)

The new Master of the Rolls was not named today (July 6) after all. The person who told me to expect an announcement appears not to have realised how long it would take for the appointment to go through the government machine.

The second most senior post in the judicial hierarchy of England and Wales is currently held by Lord Clarke of Stone-cum-Ebony, who moves to the new Supreme Court in October. Even before Lord Clarke won that promotion, I predicted here that he would be replaced by Lord Neuberger. That is still my prediction, although I believe that Lord Justice Dyson has come a close second.

If Lord Neuberger does step down from the House of Lords to become Master of the Rolls, he will be following a tradition set by Lord Denning and followed by Lord Phillips and Lord Woolf, exchanging status for power and influence. Decisions of the Court of Appeal, where Lord Neuberger would sit, may be overturned by the new Supreme Court. But not many cases ever get there.

And who will replace Lord Neuberger? It’s widely believed that Jonathan Sumption QC has already been earmarked to fill the expected vacancy. But I don’t believe a further appointment can be made without a new competition being held. Absurd though that may seem, it looks as if the Supreme Court will be one member down when it starts on October 1.

Talking of which, I heard that Lord Saville is getting used to being a judge again, booking himself in for sittings in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the House of Lords this month. I see this as confirmation of my report last month that he has finally completed writing his report into Bloody Sunday, a task that has taken him five years.

What can it be like returning to judging after a gap of more than 11 years? Is it like riding a bicycle? I would have though you’d need to do a great deal of catching up.

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