Peers mark the end of an era as Law Lords depart for Supreme Court

July 28, 2009 at 12:46 am Leave a comment


by Tony Grew

The House of Lords has paid tribute to the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary ahead of the formation of the new Supreme Court.

The new court opens on October 1st, across the road from the Palace of Westminster, in the newly refurbished Middlesex Guildhall building.

The Law Lords, who currently sit in the upper House, will become Justices of the Supreme Court.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers will be the President of the Supreme Court

Just before Parliament rose for the summer recess last week, Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, Leader of the House of Lords, moved the following motion:

“That, in view of the establishment of the United Kingdom Supreme Court on 1 October, this House thinks it right to record its appreciation of the contribution made to the work of this House by all those who have assisted the House or served in the House in a judicial capacity; and by the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and other Law Lords since the passage of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876.”

Baroness Royall, who is also Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, paid fulsome tribute to the judicial tradition in the House of Lords.

Others mourned the end of centuries of tradition.

Lord Hope of Craighead told peers that “what is really happening today is that the House is losing part of itself.”

Baroness Royall said it was a sad day and not one without controversy.

“But it is also an important day for British justice, for the British justice system, and for this country: its history and its future,” she told the House.

“It is significant because the move of the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary from the Palace of Westminster brings to an end a hugely important part of this House’s history and role: the judicial work of this House.

“It is sad for the same reason, of course: because this House will lose the advantages of having in and around the House people of such calibre as the current 12 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary and their predecessors, who are still in the House.

“It is, however, enormously important because of what they are going from this House to be: the first 12 Justices of the new United Kingdom Supreme Court—the new apex of the British justice system.

“It is inevitably also a day not without its controversy.

“I know that there are people, in this House and beyond, who still disagree with the changes to our constitution which we as a Government made in the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, including establishing for the first time in this country an institution that most democracies have seen for decades, and longer, as a fundamental part of their constitutional arrangements: a Supreme Court.

“However, now is not the time to revisit these controversies; now is the time to celebrate the Law Lords for their contribution to this House, to the law and to this country, to thank them for their service and to wish them well in their future role.”

Baroness Royall said that since the passing of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act there have been 117 Lords of Appeal in Ordinary.

“Of course, the judicial history of the House of Lords, rather than the Law Lords, goes back a great deal further than the 1876 Act, stretching back to the early Middle Ages and through such great landmark cases as Thomas Skinner and the East India Company in 1666 and Shirley and Fagg in 1675.”

Baroness Royall announced that the Justices of the Supreme Court will continue to make use of the facilities of the House.

“The current Law Lords will not be far away from this House.

“The new Supreme Court’s home is in the refurbished Middlesex Guildhall just across Parliament Square and we hope to see the new Justices of the Supreme Court as visitors to this House as often as they wish.”

The Shadow Leader of the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, said the removal of the Law Lords “closes the door on centuries in which this House has stood as the supreme arbiter of justice and, with the other place, the highest defender of the freedoms of this land.”

He said that given they were created in 1876, the Law Lords are “comparatively new fry.”

“Long before, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, this House and the other place fought battles over their respective areas of authority,” he told the House.

“A settlement was reached that the other House would be supreme in finance and your Lordships’ House in justice.

“It was a good deal and served Britain well. Now that it is ending, who knows where constitutional change will take us?

“Let us hope that the new Supreme Court will never come to set itself against this place.”

He added:

“I think it would be fair to say that the overwhelming need for the expulsion of the Law Lords from this House had not struck many of us until that infamous press release from No. 10.

“I remain unashamedly one of the unconverted today, and I suspect that I am not alone.

“Of course I sincerely wish the Law Lords well in their fine new home, where they will find their budgets under scrutiny as never before.

“We shall all miss them.

“As a young Minister, I soon learnt to fear stirrings from those Benches: the long figure of Lord Scarman or the incisive rumblings from behind his eye patch of Lord Simon of Glaisdale.

“When you saw these movements, you knew you were doomed in a way that you were not doomed if a mere politician was probing your arguments.”

Lord Strathclyde concluded:

“Warmly though I wish, and sincerely though I thank those who are going, I do not entirely see this day as a cause for a great celebration. Indeed, I suspect that it is a day that we will come to regret.

“Although your Lordships’ House is a lesser, and less distinctive, place as a result of the decisions that we mark today, I very much support the resolution. I wish the noble and learned Law Lords well in their new home.”

Lord Wallace of Saltaire, deputy leader of the Lib Dem peers, noted that this was “the last day on which we can refer to ourselves as the high court of Parliament.”

He claimed the reform was the brainchild of a 19th century Victorian Prime Minister.

“It was the Gladstone Government in 1873, with Lord Selborne as the reforming Lord Chancellor, that proposed the separation of the Supreme Court from the Lords, and it was Benjamin Disraeli, when he returned the following year, who refused to implement the Act,” he said.

“Well, here we are, only 130 years later, putting through one of Gladstone’s measures.

“After all, part of the tragedy of British constitutional history over the past 150 years is that many of the measures that Gladstone proposed were not implemented because of Conservative opposition in this House.”

He concluded:

“The message from these Benches to the Law Lords must be that we have appreciated your company and look forward to seeing more of you.

“We do not want to lose you, but we think you ought to go.”

Baroness D’Souza, convenor of the crossbench peers, marked the end of 600 years of judicial work in the House of Lords.

“Some will lament its passing but, perhaps, it is the inevitable end point to a gradual withdrawal on the part of the Law Lords from the daily business of the House in support of the principle of the independence of the judiciary,” she said.

Baroness D’Souza raised the issue of whether all Law Lords “will return to this House and provide the expertise for which they are renowned” on retirement from the Supreme Court.

“Unhappily, this pool of decades of legal experience will gradually dry up as the Law Lords are no longer automatically granted peerages,” she said.

“Some may well be appointed as Peers upon retirement, but this will also depend on which way House of Lords reform swings.

“I think it unlikely that these giants of the legal profession will submit themselves to the hurly-burly of electioneering, should a fully elected House be the choice.

“In the mean time, the task must be to devise mechanisms to keep in touch with what goes on across the square and to ensure that what goes on here is similarly conveyed to Middlesex Guildhall.”

Speaking for the Lords Spiritual, the Bishop of Portsmouth, said he would miss the Law Lords.

“Their presence here is very often an expression of deep moral courage,” he told peers.

Lord Hope of Craighead, a Law Lord, said the appellate function has been unique to the House of Lords.

“It was never part of the functions of the other place,” he said.

“It is unique, too, in the role that it has fulfilled as an appellate court.

“Its capacity to combine, within this Chamber, the legal traditions of the three separate jurisdictions within the United Kingdom—England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland—is something that the courts of none of those jurisdictions on its own could have achieved.

“The Scots insisted, when the Treaty of Union was entered into in 1707, that there should be no right of appeal to any court that sat in Westminster Hall, where the patriot William Wallace was tried and condemned for treason.

“But that did not apply to your Lordships’ House, so there was no obstacle to appeals from Scotland being heard here.

“The happy result of this combination—this historical accident, you might say—has been of immeasurable benefit to all three jurisdictions, and to the United Kingdom, due to the cross-fertilisation of ideas from these jurisdictions and a carefully balanced harmonisation which this system made possible.”

Lord Hope said that while Parliament was going into recess, “we still have 10 days to go before our term ends.”

“Next week, as your Lordships will not be here, we will resume our ancient tradition of hearing appeals here in the Chamber.

“On Thursday afternoon we will sit here for the last time to deliver our last judgments in the House.

“Unlike the Last Judgment Day, this is an event the timing of which we can predict with absolute certainty, and we will all be here.

“Only when our last judgment has been given, at 4.50 pm on Thursday afternoon, will the appellate function of the House of Lords truly pass into history.”

Hereditary peer Earl Ferrers said he deeply regretted the departure of the Law Lords.

“It must come to an end because it is said that people do not understand the difference between a political Lord and a Law Lord and, therefore, they should be housed separately,” he said.

“However, people never understand the niceties of other people’s businesses in which they themselves are not involved.

“Not many people know how to butcher a pig. That does not really matter because, fortunately, a butcher does.”

Earl Ferrers said it was a shame that the Law Lords were moving away from Parliament.

“That seems such a pity.

“The name “Law Lord” was a glorious name. In future, there will be no such thing as a Law Lord.

“I thought that in this mundane format in which we all seem to be operating, they would be called “Administrators of Justice, Grade 1”, or some such.

“Fortunately, the powers that be—I never quite understand who the powers that be are—have been more generous than that and have given them the more exalted title of Justice of the Supreme Court.

“In grieving the passing of the Law Lords—I do grieve their passing—I cannot help but think that it is all unnecessary.

“The Government have overseen the removal of most of the hereditary Peers—well, you can say, “That’s all right, time for them to go”—the removal of the Lord Chancellor, with the shell of his office now being in the hands of a Member of another place, the removal of the Law Lords, and now, one gathers from the papers, that the poor right reverend Prelates are in the firing line.

“This is pretty drastic stuff by any standard. It is an assault on your Lordships’ House and an assault on the constitution.

“When these huge constitutional changes are made, it is seldom for the better and very often it is for the worse.

“What has happened to our knowledge of history, our love of history and our respect for history?

“Why have we lost the ability of taking pride in the privilege of holding the baton of history for a while?

“Once these changes are made, it merely encourages others to do the same.

“Now we have a Speaker walking about in just a suit and a gown, like a preparatory school geography master, all on the altar of change.”

Baroness Royall said the tributes to the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary “have been fitting.”

She concluded:

“I hope that the House will forgive me if we also celebrate the contribution that has been made to this House by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, who retires today.

“We bid au revoir to the current Lords of Appeal. We bid au revoir to the right reverend Prelate. We look forward to seeing them again in this House. With that, I commend the Motion.”


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