Topic: “The critics of the Government’s proposals to abolish the post of Lord Chancellor and create a Supreme Court are motivated by blind adherence to tradition rather than a rational analysis of the issues” The United Kingdom is a Constitutional Monarchy and is based on Parliamentary Democracy, with a Queen and a Parliament that has two houses: the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. Supreme legislative power is vested in Parliament, which sits for five years unless dissolved sooner. The executive power of the Crown is exercised by the Cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister. Since the advent of the 10th century, England has existed as a unified entity and along with that has brought about many changes into the way England was governed which constantly reflected the changes in the times as the years passed by.
In the year 1997 the electoral victory of the Labour Party after eighteen years of a Conservative rule is promising to bring about a Constitutional reform that will not only serve to decentralize the United Kingdom but also contribute to the effectiveness of the Separation of Powers which has long been an issue of contention, along with the introduction of separate Parliaments in Wales and Scotland. Among some of the other elements of the Constitutional Reform as proposed by this government is the decentralization of powers from Westminster and Whitehall. The role of the Lord Chancellor is rather controversial in the sense that his responsibilities are in conflict with the doctrine of the Separation of Powers.
This doctrine states that the power of the state has to be divided between the three organs, namely the judiciary, legislature and executive. Each of the organs should operate independently and none will become all powerful. The Lord Chancellor, who is the member of the cabinet, is the head of the judiciary and is entitled to sit in the House of Lords to hear the appeal cases. Besides that, he is the speaker of the House of Lords, which is the legislative chamber. This direct conflict to the doctrine of separation of powers is seen to be incompatible with the independence of the judiciary.
The fact that the Lord Chancellor is involved in all the three organs of government is said to be unacceptable. What about ensuring fair trial which requires that a judge must be independent of the government? However, one could have doubt as to whether the Lord Chancellor, when sitting as a judge, would be biased against the government. In light of the proposed Constitutional Reform the Lord Chancellor because of his responsibility in connection with this system of justice, he should no longer be allowed to sit as a judge hearing a case. Apart from the office of the Lord Chancellor being revamped is the proposed creation of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The government also announced in 2003 that it would end the constitutional anomaly under which a House of Lords Committee served as Britain’s final Court of Appeal, and replace it with a 12-member Supreme Court located in its own building.
Among some of the criticisms is the fear expressed by some judges that the Supreme Court will become more powerful than the House of Lords Committee it is supposed to replace, and the possibility that this court can assert itself in opposition to government. There is also the argument that any change to the present British Constitution would destabilize the nation and would be detrimental to its citizens, however, one can surely realize that the simple fears and concerns being expressed are no more than children throwing tantrums when they have been taken away from that which they are accustomed.
Are we so afraid of change that we are not seeing the benefit which these two drastic changes will offer, not only for the reputation and character of the United Kingdom but also to the citizens it governs? The Supreme Court will be bolder in vindicating both the freedoms of individuals. What this means is that the twelve justices which will be appointed will be the final arbitrators between the citizens and the state and they will be the ultimate checks and balances that the law is correctly and fairly applied. This is just a case of changing the form rather than the substance of the United Kingdom.
There is little difference in the work the Supreme Court does. The case work that will be dealt with by the Supreme Court is the same that comes before justices as they sit as Law Lords in Parliament. The marked difference is that they will be leaving the House of Lords and will be therefore independent of Parliament. The issues are these: We have a situation where the Judges who decide cases in the House of Lords are the very judges who sit in Parliament where laws are being made. It is a clear overlap of powers when it is observed that these said members of the judiciary are participating in the law making process as well.
It is nothing less than a protracted brainwash if this is not observed as a benefit of the reform. It is not only about allocating balanced power to the judiciary, independence doctrine of the United Kingdom’s legal system is even guaranteed from the grass root. The most important theme of this reform will be to modernize the legal system of the United Kingdom: putting more balanced power, independent mechanisms toward selecting the judges; all are the mechanism to reach equal human dignities. Is this not what we should strive for?
Have we become so accustomed to our old ways that we are simply negating the issue of change no matter how positive it may be for us? Be this as it may, we seem to forget that this United Kingdom has a history of change which is only brought about to maintain our image of steadfastness and stability but enough to reflect the modern aspects of life. This separation brings the United Kingdom into line with many comparable modern states. It means the Supreme Court becomes the final pillar in the constitution: Parliament creates laws, the government and public bodies use those laws – and the courts monitor their application.
The issue with those who have severely criticized and believe in the hindering of this change is simply that members of the United Kingdom are very proud of their traditions and they attempt to maintain same. However, every nation and every country has its own customs and traditions. It is only natural for this to be so. However we cannot let our love and passion for what has since been a tradition blind us to what the country needs for further development to take place.
We cannot forget the ideality of the Separation of Powers we have been striving to achieve by simply shutting down the very change which may bring about this ideal. The change in function of the Lord Chancellor and the advent of the Supreme Court must not be treated as a short glass of cheap whiskey which one simply engorges rather let us treat it as a bottle of fine wine which increases in value over time.