The Supreme Court has sent ‘mood music’ to the lower courts about the approach to social and economic rights in judicial review cases, a leading legal academic has said.

Conor Gearty, professor of human rights law at the London School of Economics, said the Supreme Court had recently been ‘fairly critical of social and economic rights litigation’ in a case about the two-child limit for child tax credit, which was ‘quite a change’.

He said the case of SC and others v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and others showed the UK’s highest court effectively saying that ‘where it is matters to do with welfare, matters to do with pensions, we really will take some persuading before we hold public bodies to account’.

Speaking as part of a panel discussion at the Questions of Accountability Conference this week, Gearty said the Supreme Court was sending 'some mood music' to the lower courts, which was that courts should not 'allow litigators to camouflage what is a social and economic case as a discrimination case without a bit of a battle'.

Gearty also said SC showed that courts asked to hold public bodies to account are 'not inclined now to rely so much on international law'. He said the courts could ‘serve justice better by being more open to allowing international law to drive the analysis of domestic law’.

Lady Hale appeared to agree, saying that as a judge she tried to ‘get the Supreme Court to hold the government to account for its implementation of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child’.

‘That is something that I and one or two others of the justices were fairly keen to pursue as an argument,’ Hale said. ‘I think we hardly ever won, we were usually in dissent.’

She added that the Supreme Court’s decision in SC ‘has put us very firmly in our place’.