Law lords say creation of Supreme Court is 'unnecessary and harmful'

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The Independent Online

The creation of a new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom suffered a setback yesterday when the country's most senior judges opposed a central part of the reform

Six of the 12 law lords described the creation of the new court as "unnecessary and harmful." They said the final court of appeal should remain in the House of Lords and the cost of the change would be wholly out of proportion to any benefit achieved. Two of their colleagues abstained while a minority of four said they supported plans for the new court.

And the law lords were unanimous in expressing "great concern" over the abolition of the office of Lord Chancellor that was announced in the so called "botched" cabinet reshuffle in the summer.

They said: "In the past, the Lord Chancellor's role was to uphold constitutional propriety and champion judicial independence. The constitution would be gravely weakened if that safeguard were removed and not replaced."

The law lords also opposed any ultimate ministerial veto to the appointment of senior judges - recommended by the newly proposed judicial appointments commission.

Under the law lords' proposal, the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs "would be bound" to accept the commission's recommendation but he would have the right to ask the commission to think again.

Yesterday's document shows for the first time the extent of the law lords' opposition to the reforms. Their 13-page report says: "It should not be thought that the law lords as a body support the proposal to establish a new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

"A number of serving law lords believe that, on pragmatic grounds, the proposed change is unnecessary and will be harmful. They believe that the law lords' presence in the House is of benefit to the law lords, to the House, and to others including the litigants."

The paper adds: "Appeals are heard in a unique, suitably prestigious, setting for this country's court of final appeal. The House of Lords as a judicial body is recognised by that name throughout the common law world."

Four law lords, including the senior law lord Lord Bingham of Cornhill, supported the plan for a Supreme Court. The overall views of the two remaining law lords, Lords Hobhouse and Scott, were not revealed in the document. The report noted the Government did not appear to have prepared a business plan or make a proper estimate of costs for any new Supreme Court.