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Law lords attack Supreme Court plan

By Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor (Filed: 13/02/2004)

Senior judges both past and present lined up in the House of Lords yesterday to attack the Government over its decision to abolish the office of Lord Chancellor and replace the law lords with a Supreme Court.

Lord Nicholls, the second most senior law lord, said that plans to take him and his fellow judges away to a "place of safety" and put them in a "judicial ivory tower" were "misguided... unnecessary and would do more harm than good".

Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice, said he understood that "not one penny of new money" was available for the reforms. He said there should be no question of the new court being funded by court users, "because very unwisely the Treasury has committed full cost recovery from court fees".

In an interview with the New Statesman this week, Lord Woolf said that unless new money was available to pay for the court, he would oppose it.

Lord Hoffmann, a serving law lord, said: "It is sad that a great constitutional change should be adopted as a quick fix for personal squabbles in the cabinet.

"One of the glories of this country's constitution - unique in the world - has been its continuity. Institutions such as the Lord Chancellor adapted themselves over centuries to new constitutional roles, without having to make a new start."

Lord Lloyd of Berwick, a retired law lord, said abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor was "the one step most likely to endanger the independence of the judiciary".

He recalled that previous Lord Chancellors had protected judges' powers to consider the legality of Government decisions through judicial review. The Government was now proposing to oust the power of the courts to review asylum decisions, a proposal he viewed with "very considerable alarm".

Lord Falconer, the Constitution Secretary, defended the planned changes, saying he disagreed with claims by some that they threatened to compromise the quality of the judiciary.