UK vs US Supreme Court

UK vs US Supreme Court

Origin and Establishment:

  • The US Supreme Court was established by the US Constitution in 1789 as part of the separation of powers.
  • The UK Supreme Court is much younger – it was only established in 2009, replacing the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords as the highest court in the land.

Appointment of Justices:

  • In the US, nominations are made by the President and must be approved by the Senate. This has often led to highly politicised confirmation hearings.
  • In the UK, a non-partisan selection commission proposes new justices, reducing the risk of direct political influence.

Number of Justices:

  • The US Supreme Court has nine justices, a number that is not fixed by the Constitution but by Congress. Historically, it has ranged from five to ten.
  • The UK Supreme Court has twelve justices, but smaller panels (ranging from five to nine justices) usually hear cases.

Role and Power:

  • The US Supreme Court has a significant role in shaping US law and arguably policy through judicial review. It can declare laws unconstitutional, altering their meaning and application.
  • The UK Supreme Court can only rule on the interpretation and application of law, not on its constitutional validity. It cannot strike down legislation.


  • Unanimous decisions are fairly common in the UK Supreme Court, while they are relatively rare in the US Supreme Court.
  • US Supreme Court decisions are often closely divided (5-4 or even 4-4), reflecting ideological divisions among the justices.

Public Profile:

  • US Supreme Court justices are relatively high profile, partly due to the nature of their appointment and the contentious issues they often deal with. Their political and ideological leanings can be subject to public scrutiny and debate.
  • UK Supreme Court justices tend to have a lower public and media profile, reflecting the less politicised nature of their role and the court itself.

Transparency and Public Access:

  • The US Supreme Court, traditionally, did not allow cameras in the courtroom. It only started livestreaming audio of oral arguments in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The UK Supreme Court, on the other hand, live streams video footage of its public hearings on its website. This reflects a broader commitment to promoting transparency and public understanding of the judicial process.

The UK and US Supreme Courts share the status of being the highest appellate courts in their respective nations. However, they differ significantly in terms of their establishment, appointment process, functions, and relationship with the public and the political system.