Whatever Happened to the House of Lords? A Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will take up work Starting in October 2009

Time marches on, and there is in fact some visible modernity in law after all, even in a land as rich in tradition and legal glory as the United Kingdom.


Middlesex Guildhall
Future home of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom

The Ministry of Justice of the UK informs us about the essentials:

The introduction of a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom will provide greater clarity in our constitutional arrangements by further separating the judiciary from the legislature. It will assume the jurisdiction of the current Appellate Committee of the House of Lords and the devolution jurisdiction of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

The court will be an independent institution, presided over by independently appointed law lords. It will be housed in the historic Middlesex Guildhall on London’s Parliament Square – opposite the Houses of Parliament and alongside Westminster Abbey and the Treasury – a fitting location for the apex of the justice system. The Guildhall is being renovated for use as a Supreme Court and is due to open at the start of the legal year in October 2009.

A booklet has been produced providing more information about the Supreme Court, including some images of proposed artwork (which has not yet been submitted for planning consent). If you would like to receive a complimentary copy (or copies), or would like any further information about the programme, please contact us.

We quote from the Wikipedia and recommend reading there for more details such as these:

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom was established in law by Part III of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The Lord Chancellor has announced that it will start work in October 2009 once its new premises are ready. [link added by LawPundit]

It will take over the Law Lords’ judicial functions in the House of Lords and some functions in the Judicial committee of the Privy Council. The Supreme Court will be the final court of appeal in all matters under English law, Welsh law (to the extent that the Welsh Assembly makes laws for Wales that differ from those in England) and Northern Irish law.

It will not have authority over criminal cases in Scotland, where the High Court of Justiciary will remain the supreme court. However, it will hear appeals from the Court of Session, just as the House of Lords does today.

It may hear cases of dispute between the three devolved governments – the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish Government and the Welsh Assembly Government – and the UK government, taking over this function from the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.“

The UK Department for Constitutional Affairs provides comprehensive background material concerning this rather remarkable development in the UK judiciary and legal system.

Remarkable is the role played by the doctrine of separation of powers:

The Government’s plans to create the Supreme Court, announced in June 2003, were controversial and were brought forward with little consultation. During 2004, a select committee of the House of Lords scrutinised the arguments for and against setting up a new court.

The main argument in favour of change was that there should be a separation between the House of Lords’ role as a legislature and its role as a court. This, it was claimed, confused people and offended constitutional principles of separation of powers and independence of the judiciary. The main argument against the reforms was that the current arrangements worked well and provided good value for money.