Way clear for Woolf to lead judiciary

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Indy Politics

The Government opened the door yesterday for the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, to assume the leadership of the judiciary of England and Wales.

In his first press conference since taking up the post of Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton said the title of constitutional head of the judiciary had never been set in statute although his predecessors had always considered this to be one of their most important roles.

Lord Woolf, who has clashed with David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, over the issue of sentencing and the power of the judiciary, is the most likely candidate to assume the title upon the abolition of the office of the Lord Chancellor. A spokeswoman for Lord Woolf, the most senior judge in England and Wales, said he would respond during the consultation on the future constitutional changes.

Lord Falconer, who is also Secretary of State at the newly formed Department of Constitutional Affairs, said he would continue "to do all the things" that the Lord Chancellor did, except exercise his right to sit as a judge, until the 1,400-year-old office was abolished in 18 months' time. He said a discussion paper on the founding of a body to appoint judges and on the setting up of a supreme court would be published on 14 July.

Although the detail had still to be finalised, Lord Falconer said the Government did not plan to establish an American-style supreme court that had the power to strike down legislation. But he did raise the prospect of giving the new Judicial Appointments Commission the power to sack as well as appoint judges.

Lord Falconer said of the proposals to change the constitution: "These are not new concepts, they have been debated for many years. We believe the time is right to do them."