Our Sixth Form students – Rhetoric I and II, visited The Supreme Court in the third week of term – the last court of appeal in the UK.
During the visit, we discussed the purpose of The Supreme Court, the way in which it was set up, and the sorts of cases it rules on. We then debated a case that the court had ruled on previously; ‘Lee vs Ashers Baking company’, which involved a dispute between a bakery and a gay marriage supporter.
In this case, the baking company refused to make a cake that said, ‘We support gay marriage’. This then gave Lee cause to sue as he argued the baking company discriminated against his sexuality (The United Kingdom had just recognised gay marriage in law). The debate highlighted a contradiction between three protected characteristics of the equality act ‘marriage’, ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘religious beliefs. It also drew on debates about free speech and whether one can compel someone, or in this case a business, to make a political statement they don’t agree with, as well as whether something can be considered a ‘political statement’ if it has just been enshrined in law. Lee won his initial suit and every appeal up until the supreme courts’ final ruling. Lee then took it to the European court of human rights in the hope of overturning The Supreme Court’s ruling.
Students were split into three groups. Some were asked advocate for Lee. Some for the bakery and a third group were required to play the role of the justices. They finally voted on the case based, not on their views but, on the arguments put forward. They used High Performance Learning skills such as Analysing, Linking, Empathy and Creating to form, structure and argue their sides. A lively debate was had by all!
We ended the tour with a visit to courtroom 3, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC), which serves as a supreme court for nations who pay to use it. Apparently, it’s cheaper for the subscribing nations to use the JCPC than for them to have their own supreme court. It also benefits the UK diplomatically to act as the host. Interestingly, on UK soil, lawyers at the JCPC have ruled over cases that carry the death penalty (e.g. Brunei). Seeing the JCPC in action enabled students to link together themes from global politics A Level like ‘soft Power’, Human rights’ and ‘sovereignty’ and see them applied to a real word example.