Jonathan Sumption, Lord Sumption

Jonathan Philip Chadwick Sumption, Lord Sumption, OBE, PC, FSA, FRHistS (born 9 December 1948), is a British author, medieval historian and former senior judge.

Lord Sumption

Justice of the UK Supreme Court
In office
11 January 2012  9 December 2018
MonarchElizabeth II
Preceded byThe Lord Collins of Mapesbury
Personal details
Born (1948-12-09) 9 December 1948
Spouse(s)Teresa Sumption, née Whelan
Children2 daughters; 1 son
ResidenceLondon, England
EducationEton College
Alma materMagdalen College, Oxford
OccupationBarrister; judge

Sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court on 11 January 2012, succeeding The Lord Collins of Mapesbury,[1] 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,[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 HM 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 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).

Early life and education

Sumption was the elder son of Anthony Sumption,[7] a decorated naval officer and barrister, and Hilda Hedigan; their marriage was dissolved in 1979.[8] He was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford, graduating in 1970 with a first in History.[9][10] He was elected a fellow of Magdalen College teaching and writing books on medieval history, before leaving to pursue a career in law.[9] 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,[11][12] 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.[11][13] 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.[12] 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[14] and the Guernsey Court of Appeal.

A member of the Judicial Appointments Commission, until his appointment to the Supreme Court, Sumption 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.[15]

Earnings as a barrister

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.[16][9] 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.[16]

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.[17] The Government had money and reputation at stake, the case examining some of the actions of HMG, 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.

Judicial career

On 4 May 2011 Sumption's appointment as a Justice of the Supreme Court was announced.[18] Upon his subsequent swearing-in on 11 January 2012,[1] 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).[19][20] 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.[21] He retired from the Supreme Court on 9 December 2018.[22]

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.[23] 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 nominated to be a Non-Permanent Judge of the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong, pending confirmation by its Legislative Council.[24]


The Hundred Years' War

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".[25]

Five volumes are planned.[9] 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".[26]

Political views

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".[27][28]

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".[26]

Sumption, although a Remainer, views PM Boris Johnson's proroguing Parliament to be lawful.[29] To be unlawful


Sumption speaks French and Italian fluently, and reads Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Catalan and Latin.[9] He "rarely learned them using guides, instead I preferred to muddle on through a text with a dictionary by my side", he is oft-quoted as saying.[26]

An opera lover, he serves as a Director of the English National Opera and as a Governor of the Royal Academy of Music.[30]

Full style

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


  • Pilgrimage: An Image of Medieval Religion (1975) ISBN 0-571-10339-1, re-issued in 2003 as The Age of Pilgrimage: The Medieval Journey to God ISBN 1-58768-025-4
  • The Albigensian Crusade (1978) ISBN 0-571-11064-9
  • Equality (1979, with Sir Keith Joseph) ISBN 0-7195-3651-0
  • The Hundred Years War I: Trial by Battle (1990) ISBN 0-571-13895-0; paperback (1999) ISBN 978-0-571-20095-5
  • The Hundred Years War II: Trial by Fire (1999) ISBN 0-571-13896-9; paperback (2001) ISBN 0-571-20737-5
  • The Hundred Years War III: Divided Houses (2009) ISBN 0-571-13897-7
  • The Hundred Years War IV: Cursed Kings (2015) ISBN 0-571-27454-4
  • Trials of the State: Law and the Decline of Politics (2019) ISBN 1-788-16372-9



Notable cases

As counsel

As judge


  1. "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. Irvine (2011).
  5. Leigh (2010).
  6. Croft (2012).
  7. "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  8. Daily Telegraph (2008).
  9. Steavenson, Wendell (6 August 2015). "Jonathan Sumption: the brain of Britain". Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  10. Brick Court Chambers website: Jonathan Sumption QC’s Full CV Archived 8 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved: 16 October 2011
  11. Bogdanor, Vernon (21 May 2013). "Sir Keith Joseph and the Market Economy, Lecture delivered at Gresham College". Lecture delivered at Gresham College. Archived from the original on 8 May 2017.
  12. Irvine, Ian (14 October 2011). "Jonathan Sumption: Donnish but deadly". The Independent. Archived from the original on 18 August 2016.
  13. Denham, Andrew; Garnett, Mark (2014). Keith Joseph. Abingdon: Routledge.
  14. "Judiciary". Jersey Law. Archived from the original on 10 February 2011. Retrieved 11 May 2011.
  15. East Hants Council (2007).
  16. Dyer (2003).
  17. Daily Telegraph (2005).
  18. "Press Release:Senior Judicial Appointments". Number 10. 4 May 2011.
  19. "Courtesy titles for Justices of the Supreme Court" (PDF). Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. 13 December 2010. Retrieved 14 December 2010.
  20. "No. 59746". The London Gazette. 1 April 2011. pp. 6177–6178.
  21. "Orders approved at Privy Council 14 December 2011" (PDF). Privy Council Office. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
  22. "Former Justices". Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. Retrieved 13 December 2018.
  24. "Appointment of non-permanent judge from another common law jurisdiction of the Court of Final Appeal". Retrieved 29 May 2019.
  25. Quotations from the selection of reviews displayed on the back of The Hundred Years War III: Divided Houses.
  26. "Jonathan Sumption Interview | Quadrapheme". Archived from the original on 14 April 2016. Retrieved 28 October 2015.
  27. Cohen, Nick (27 September 2015). "Why the Women's Equality party is long overdue". The Guardian. Guardian Media Group. Retrieved 27 September 2015.
  28. 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.
  30. "Governing Body". Royal Academy of Music.


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