|Justice of the UK Supreme Court|
11 January 2012 – 9 December 2018
|Nominated by||Kenneth Clarke|
|Preceded by||The Lord Collins of Mapesbury|
|Succeeded by||Lord Sales|
|Born||9 December 1948|
|Spouse(s)||Teresa Sumption, née Whelan|
|Children||2 daughters; 1 son|
|Alma mater||Magdalen College, Oxford|
Sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court on 11 January 2012, succeeding The Lord Collins of Mapesbury, exceptionally, Sumption was raised to the Supreme Court bench directly from the practising at the Bar, rather than the more usual route of having been full-time judge. He retired from the Supreme Court on 9 December 2018 upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Sumption is well known for his role as a barrister in many legal cases. They include appearances in the Hutton Inquiry on the UK Government's behalf, in the Three Rivers case, his representation of former Cabinet Minister Stephen Byers and the UK Department for Transport in the Railtrack private shareholders' action against the British Government in 2005, for defending HM Government in an appeal hearing brought by Binyam Mohamed, and for successfully defending Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in a private lawsuit brought by Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.
A former academic, Sumption was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1998 and is also known for writing a substantial narrative history of the Hundred Years' War, so far in four volumes. Sumption has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS) and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA).
Sumption was the elder son of Anthony Sumption, a decorated naval officer and barrister, and Hilda Hedigan; their marriage was dissolved in 1979. He was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating in 1970 with a first in History. He was elected a fellow of Magdalen College, teaching and writing books on medieval history before leaving to pursue a career in law. Called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1975, he then pursued a successful legal practice in commercial law.
In the 1970s, Sumption served as an adviser to the Conservative MP and Cabinet Minister Sir Keith Joseph, He wrote parts of Joseph's controversial 1974 Edgbaston speech, which was generally thought to have doomed Joseph's chances of becoming Leader of the Conservative Party. Sumption and Joseph also co-wrote a 1979 book, Equality, in which they argued that no convincing arguments for an equal society have ever been advanced and that no such society has ever been successfully created. In the late 1970s Sumption was a regular contributor to The Sunday Telegraph.
Sumption was appointed Queen's Counsel (QC) in 1986 at the relatively young age of 38, and elected a Bencher of the Inner Temple in 1991. He has served as a Deputy High Court Judge in the Chancery Division, and a Judge of the Court of Appeal of Jersey and the Guernsey Court of Appeal.
On 30 November 2007, when a practising barrister, Sumption successfully represented himself before Lord Justice Collins in a judicial review application in the Administrative Court concerning development near his home at Greenwich.
The Guardian once described him as being a member of the "million-a-year club", the elite group of barristers earning over a million pounds a year. In a letter to The Guardian in 2001, he compared his "puny £1.6 million a year" to the vastly larger amounts that comparable individuals in business, sports and entertainment are paid.
For a four-week trial (and all the preparatory work) in the UK in 2005 he charged £800,000 to represent HM Government in the largest class action in the UK, brought by 49,500 private shareholders of the collapsed national railway infrastructure company Railtrack. The Government had money and reputation at stake, the case examining some of the actions of HM Government, especially of former Transport Secretary Stephen Byers. Byers became the only former Cabinet Minister to be cross-examined in the High Court in relation to his actions in modern times: the UK Government won the case.
On 4 May 2011 Sumption's appointment as a Justice of the Supreme Court was announced. Upon his subsequent swearing-in on 11 January 2012, he assumed the title of Lord Sumption pursuant to a Royal Warrant (by which all members of the Supreme Court, even if they do not hold a peerage title, are accorded the style of "Lord" for life). Sumption was sworn of the Privy Council on 14 December 2011 in advance of his joining the Court, whose Justices double as members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. He retired from the Supreme Court on 9 December 2018.
Sumption is the first lawyer appointed to the Supreme Court without previously serving as a full-time judge since its inception in 2009. There were only five such appointments as Law Lords to the Court's predecessor, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords. Two were Scots lawyers: Lord Macmillan in 1930 and Lord Reid in 1948; the others were: Lord Macnaghten (1887), Lord Carson (1921) and Lord Radcliffe (1949).
After his retirement, Sumption was appointed as a Non-Permanent Judge of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal on 18 December 2019. He had previously appeared as counsel in the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal in a number of cases.
Sumption's narrative history of the Hundred Years' War between England and France (of which four volumes have so far been published, between 1990 and 2015) has been widely praised as "earning a place alongside Sir Steven Runciman's A History of the Crusades" according to Frederic Raphael, and as a work that "deploys an enormous variety of documentary material ... and interprets it with imaginative and intelligent sympathy" and is "elegantly written" (Rosamond McKitterick, Evening Standard); for Allan Massie it is "An enterprise on a truly Victorian scale ... What is most impressive about this work, apart from the author's mastery of his material and his deployment of it, is his political intelligence".
Five volumes are planned. Volume I (covering the years from the funeral of Charles IV of France in 1329 to the Surrender of Calais in 1347) was first published in 1990. Volume II (covering the years from 1347 to 1369) was published in 1999. Volume III (covering the years from 1369 to 1399) appeared in 2009. Volume IV (covering the years from 1399 to 1422) appeared in 2015, the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt.
Sumption has been praised for a clipped and polished prose style, which he credits to his unwillingness to employ cliché. He admires Gibbon but points out "if anybody wrote like him today they’d be dismissed as a pompous fart".
Sumption said that an attempt rapidly to achieve gender equality in the Supreme Court through quotas or positive discrimination could end up discouraging male applicants and so "have appalling consequences for justice".
He has criticised the historical curriculum in English schools as "appallingly narrow", warning that by forcing English schoolchildren to study 1918–1945 in isolation they "are being taught about Germany and Europe during its most aberrant period".
On The World at One on 30 March 2020, he strongly criticised the British government's response to the coronavirus pandemic: "So, yes, this is serious. And, yes, it's understandable that people cry out to the government. But the real question is: is this serious enough to warrant putting most of our population into house imprisonment, wrecking our economy for an indefinite period, destroying businesses that honest and hard-working people have taken years to build up, saddling future generations with debt? Depression, stress, heart attacks, suicides, and unbelievable distress inflicted on millions of people who are not especially vulnerable and will suffer only mild symptoms or none at all, like the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister."
Sumption speaks French and Italian fluently, and reads Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Catalan and Latin. He "rarely learned them using guides, instead I preferred to muddle on through a text with a dictionary by my side".