Bentham and judicial retirement

Jeremy Bentham auto-icon, via UCLJeremy Bentham (1748-1832) (left) was a utilitarian philosopher, whose radical ideas on education inspired those who founded University College London. Nowadays, the Bentham Association (formerly the Bentham Club) is the Alumni Association for UCL’s lawyers, and it annually hosts a Presidential Address from an invited senior lawyer. This year’s address was given by Lord Pannick QC on the topic:

“Better that a horse should have a voice in that House [of Lords], than that a judge should” (Jeremy Bentham).

Replacing the Law Lords by a Supreme Court

It broadly concerned the implications of the removal of the final court of appeal from parliament, and can be heard online here. It covers a wide range of very interesting material, and is very well worth listening to. There’s no text yet online, but one aspect of it appears in Pannick’s column in today’s Times, taking the field on an issue I’ve looked at already on this blog (here and here); some extracts:

Seventy is far too early for a supreme court judge to retire . . .

… The argument for a retirement age of 75 for all supreme court justices is very simple. Those appointed are the cream of the judiciary. They inevitably take time to rise to the top, normally after serving for several years in the High Court and then in the Court of Appeal. It seems an awful shame to throw out judicial resources of such quality after a short stay in the supreme court when they are still fresh in mind and body and well short of their sell-by date.

… One can sympathise with the comments of Lord Bridge of Harwich in his final case in the Appellate Committee in 1995 when he expressed his annoyance at “the statutory presumption of judicial incompetence at the age of 75”. Lord Bridge, still at the peak of his considerable intellectual powers, went off to study for a mathematics degree.

… The appropriate balance between innovation and experience (or, if you prefer, between immaturity and senility) is, I think, a retirement age of 70 for of the High Court and the Court of Appeal. But for the supreme court, given the length of time that it will take for to arrive at such legal heights, a retirement age of 75 is more appropriate. Lords Reid, Wilberforce and Bingham of Cornhill, whose intellectual force, constitutional perspective, and good sense adorned the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords over the past 40 years, did much of their best work after 70. It would be a great detriment to the legal system if their successors were prematurely retired to a life as arbitrators.

On this one, I’m with Pannick, but I’m not sure Bentham would have approved: he didn’t trust judges much.


Update: joining Pannick’s column in the Times Online is the following related news story:

Judges fail in Tribunal bid to extend working lives beyond 70

Two judges fighting to work beyond the age of 70 have lost their case, the Tribunals Service has said. … The decision coincides with a move by legal peers to enable Britain’s top judges – those appointed to the new Supreme Court in the autumn – to stay on until the age of 75. …

I’ve blogged about the judges’ age discrimination challenge already; what I find most interesting is the throwaway line in the article that legal peers are lining up to support a retirement age of 75.

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