When I reported the appointment of Sir John Dyson to the Supreme Court last month, I asked why he had not been given the honorary title of “Lord”. The answer, I’m told is Jack Straw.
A word of explanation for new readers: it is well understood that new members of the Supreme Court do not receive peerages, unlike their colleagues who were previously law lords. Those judges retain their peerages but are disqualified from sitting or voting in the House of Lords while holding office (see section 137 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which also bans the current Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls from taking part in Lords debates — though the government seems not to have intended this).
Long ago, it was proposed that judges appointed direct to the Supreme Court – who would not normally have peerages – should be given the honorary title of “Lord”. This would put them in the same position as members of the Court of Session in Scotland. These judges do not receive knighthoods on appointment — unlike their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom — but are known as “Lord” or “Lady” despite not having peerages.
The last I heard of this proposal was that it was “awaiting approval from the Palace”. Since the Queen acts on the advice of her ministers, we must assume that the failure to award Sir John Dyson the honorary title of Lord is the fault of the Lord Chancellor, Jack Straw. That is certainly the view of the Supreme Court judges.
Why has Straw blocked Dyson’s honour? Why did he block the appointment of Sir Nicholas Wall as president of the High Court Family Division until the last possible moment? Why is he blocking the process of appointing new members of the Court of Appeal to replace them? Nobody knows. As far as Dyson is concerned, Straw can’t even claim to be saving money.
But the Supreme Court judges are not happy with the idea that one of their number should have apparently inferior status to those senior to him — and to the next Scottish judge who will be junior to him. It will take 15 years before there is no member of the court with a peerage left.
I’m told the judges are now thinking of using he clumsy title “Justice of the Supreme Court” instead of “Lord” or “Lady” if there is no other way of avoiding the perceived inequality. That would be a pity — and will never catch on. Let us hope that the incoming Lord Chancellor, even if it is still Jack Straw, has the sense to sort this out.