Jonathan Sumption, Lord Sumption

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The Right Honourable
Lord Sumption
Lord Sumption 2013.jpg
Justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom
Assumed office
11 January 2012
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by The Lord Collins of Mapesbury
Personal details
Born (1948-12-09) 9 December 1948 (age 69)
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Teresa Sumption, née Whelan
Children 2 daughters; 1 son
Residence London
Education Eton College
Alma mater Magdalen College, Oxford
Occupation Barrister; Judge
Profession Law

Jonathan Philip Chadwick Sumption, Lord Sumption OBE PC FSA FRHistS (born 9 December 1948), is a British judge, author and medieval historian. He was sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court on 11 January 2012, succeeding The Lord Collins of Mapesbury[1]. Exceptionally, he was raised to the Supreme Court bench directly from the practising bar, rather than from prior service as a full-time judge.

He 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,[2] in the Three Rivers case,[3] 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,[4] for defending the Government in an Appeal hearing brought by Binyam Mohamed,[5] and for successfully defending Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich in a private lawsuit brought by Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.[6]

A former academic, Sumption was honoured as an Officer of the Most Excellent 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. Lord Sumption has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society (FRHistS) and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London (FSA).

Early life and education[edit]

OBE ribbon

His parents were Anthony Sumption, a decorated Royal Naval officer and barrister, and Hilda Hedigan; their marriage was dissolved in 1979.[7]

Sumption was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford.[8] He graduated from Oxford University in 1970, receiving a BA degree in History with first class honours.[9] He became a fellow of Magdalen College teaching and writing books on medieval history, before leaving to pursue a career in the Law.[8] He was called to the bar at Inner Temple in 1975 and subsequently pursued a successful legal practice in commercial law. In the late 1970s Sumption was a regular contributor to The Sunday Telegraph.

Legal career[edit]

Sumption was appointed Queen's Counsel (QC) in 1986 at the relatively young age of 38, and 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[10] and the Guernsey Court of Appeal.

He has been a member of the Judicial Appointments Commission as well as a Governor of the Royal Academy of Music. Until his appointment to the Supreme Court, he was joint head of Brick Court Chambers.[4]

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.[11]

In 2013, Sumption generated some controversy by engaging in a debate with Professor Graham Virgo at the University of Cambridge, arguing that "Those Who Wish to Practise Law Should Not Study Law at University".[12]

Supreme Court[edit]

On 4 May 2011 it was announced that Sumption would take a seat on the Supreme Court at a later date.[13] Upon his subsequent swearing-in on 11 January 2012,[1] he was granted, by Royal sign-manual, the courtesy 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, are entitled to the judicial style and title "Lord" for life.[14][15].

Sumption had been appointed to the Privy Council on 14 December 2011 in anticipation of his joining the Court, whose Justices double as members of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.[16]

Sumption is the first person appointed to the Supreme Court without previously serving as a full-time judge since its inception in 2009. There were only five such appointments to the Court's predecessor, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords.[citation needed] 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).

Earnings as a barrister[edit]

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.[17][8] 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.[17]

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.[18] The Government had money and reputation at stake. The case examined some of the actions of the 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.


The Hundred Years' War[edit]

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".[19]

Five volumes are planned.[8] 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".[20]

Political views[edit]

Sumption said that an attempt to rapidly 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".[21][22]

He has criticised the historical curriculum in English schools as "appallingly narrow", warning that by forcing English schoolchildren to study 1918-45 in isolation they "are being taught about Germany and Europe during its most aberrant period".[20]


Sumption speaks French and Italian fluently, and reads Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Catalan and Latin.[8] He has said that he "rarely learned them using guides, instead I preferred to muddle on through a text with a dictionary by my side."[20]

An opera lover, he is a director of the English National Opera and on the governing body of the Royal Academy of Music.[8]

Full style[edit]

  • The Rt Hon Lord Sumption, OBE, PC, FRHistS, FSA




  • The Limits of Law (2013). Lord Sumption gives the 27th Sultan Azlan Shah Lecture, Kuala. Lumpur. "The Limits of Law" (PDF). UK Supreme Court. Retrieved 7 Aug 2015. 

Notable cases[edit]

As counsel[edit]

As judge[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Jonathan Sumption QC to be sworn in as Supreme Court Justice" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. 10 January 2012. Retrieved 10 January 2012. 
  2. ^ Dodd (2003).
  3. ^ Law Lords Department (2000).
  4. ^ a b Irvine (2011).
  5. ^ Leigh (2010).
  6. ^ Croft (2012).
  7. ^ Daily Telegraph (2008).
  8. ^ a b c d e f Steavenson, Wendell (6 August 2015). "Jonathan Sumption: the brain of Britain". Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  9. ^ Brick Court Chambers website: Jonathan Sumption QC’s Full CV Archived 8 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved: 16 October 2011
  10. ^ "Judiciary". Jersey Law. Archived from the original on 10 February 2011. Retrieved February 2011.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  11. ^ East Hants Council (2007).
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Press Release:Senior Judicial Appointments". Number 10. 4 May 2011. 
  14. ^ "Courtesy titles for Justices of the Supreme Court" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. 13 December 2010. Retrieved 14 December 2010. 
  15. ^ "No. 59746". The London Gazette. 1 April 2011. pp. 6177–6178. 
  16. ^ "Orders approved at Privy Council 14 December 2011" (PDF). Privy Council Office. Retrieved 13 January 2012. 
  17. ^ a b Dyer (2003).
  18. ^ Daily Telegraph (2005).
  19. ^ Quotations from the selection of reviews displayed on the back of The Hundred Years War III: Divided Houses.
  20. ^ a b c "Jonathan Sumption Interview | Quadrapheme". Archived from the original on 14 April 2016. Retrieved 28 October 2015. 
  21. ^ Cohen, Nick (27 September 2015). "Why the Women's Equality party is long overdue". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  22. ^ Bentham, Martin (21 September 2015). "Rush for gender equality with top judges 'could have appalling consequences for justice'". London Evening Standard. London. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 


External links[edit]