Complex judiciary reforms 'rushed through', say MPs

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The Independent Online

Far-reaching constitutional reforms were rushed through Parliament without proper consultation, a report by an influential group of MPs said today.

The cross-party committee on constitutional affairs called for more time to consider changes to the appointment of judges and the creation of a new Supreme Court to take over the function of the judicial committee of the House of Lords.

Members argued that the Government's reforms have been "too rushed, the consultation process has been too short and the legislative timetable too restrictive". The MPs said more time was needed to enable proper scrutiny of the "complex, fundamental changes" and concluded that they were rushed through on grounds of political expediency.

They argued that the proposed changes could have been brought in incrementally and that the abolition of the Office of Lord Chancellor should be delayed until the reforms were established. They also said that Parliament should be able to scrutinise the proposals in the form of draft legislation.

Finding suitable accommodation for the new Supreme Court is proving to be a major problem, the MPs said. As a result, they concluded that the timing of the introduction of the new court should be adjusted to ensure it could commence its work in an appropriate location. Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, told the House of Lords yesterday that he had conducted an "an extensive property search" for the new court. But, he added,it might, on occasion, be appropriate to hear cases in other parts of the country, such as devolution matters. His pledge came in a statement unveiling further details of the reforms announced last summer as part of the Cabinet reshuffle, and said the Government would bring forward the Supreme Court legislation.

The new judges would be known as Justices of the Supreme Court. He told peers: "As the key objective is to achieve a full and transparent separation between the judiciary and the legislature, it follows that Justices of the Supreme Court, other holders of full-time judicial office or retired Justices of the Supreme Court who continue to sit will no longer be entitled to sit or to vote in the House of Lords or to participate in the work of Parliament for as long as they hold their judicial appointment."

This will exclude the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Master of the Rolls from taking part in the business of the House of Lords. Lord Falconer gave assurances that the first 12 justices would be those holding office as law lords upon the creation of the new court and that "qualifications for appointments will be unchanged".