Harry Woolf: This Bill is a triumph of democratic law-making

From a speech by the Lord Chief Justice, given at the University of Hertfordshire

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It came as an immense shock when the Prime Minister made his announcement on 12 June 2003 that the office of Lord Chancellor would be abolished and in its place there would be a Minister of Constitutional Affairs. Within a very short period it was apparent that the proposal to abolish the office had complex implications. The office is central to many different aspects of our society. However, the institution that was most affected was the judiciary.

It came as an immense shock when the Prime Minister made his announcement on 12 June 2003 that the office of Lord Chancellor would be abolished and in its place there would be a Minister of Constitutional Affairs. Within a very short period it was apparent that the proposal to abolish the office had complex implications. The office is central to many different aspects of our society. However, the institution that was most affected was the judiciary.

My view was, and still is, that it is impossible to have as head of the judiciary, an ordinary government minister who did not even purport to be a judge. Many aspects of our society are organised on the basis that the judiciary are independent of the other arms of government, and the Lord Chancellor was the prime protector of that independence.

Fortunately, Lord Falconer, the new Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor, accepted that it was of prime importance that the new arrangements should be in legislation which spelt out the parameters of his responsibilities, and those of the Chief Justice who was to be the new head of the judiciary. This country is a model to which many countries look for the shape of their democracies, and we must provide the correct precedent.

A huge investment has been made by the judiciary, and Lord Falconer and his department, in bringing us to the present position. The probabilities are now that the Bill will become law. If this happens, I would regard it as a triumph for the democratic process and the future administration of justice.

Particular credit for this must go to the House of Lords. They proved to be a remarkably effective revising chamber. The creation of the Bill has been a great example of responsible law-making, and so I am a much happier man than I was when that announcement was first made.

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