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The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in the United Kingdom. It hears appeals from the whole of the United Kingdom in civil cases, and for England, Wales and Northern Ireland in criminal cases. Additionally, the Supreme Court hears cases on devolution matters. Before the Supreme Court was established its functions were performed by the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. The Supreme Court is provided for by part 3 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 which was brought into force on 1 October 2009, establishing the Supreme Court from that date. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 provides for twelve judges of the Supreme Court, including a President and Deputy President. A recruitment round is currently underway to fill three vacancies, and the announcement of the successful candidates is expected in July 2017. In addition, three further Justices will reach retirement age in 2018. This forthcoming significant turnover has led to increased focus on a perceived lack of diversity among judges of the Supreme Court, as well as debate about the suitability of the current retirement age of 70.

Other recent developments concern the Supreme Court’s future role with regard to EU law and human rights. At present, the Court can ask the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to rule on certain questions regarding European Union law. The Government has proposed that when the UK leaves the EU the Supreme Court should take account of ECJ judgments issued before its withdrawal and should not take account of judgments concerning laws passed after this date. With regard to human rights, if an individual considers that their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights have not been respected by a decision of a UK court they may bring a claim before the European Court of Human Rights. At the 2015 general election, the Conservatives had pledged to “make our own Supreme Court the ultimate arbiter of human rights matters in the UK” but have since said “we will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament”.

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