Lord Woolf: Does our constitution provide the protection it should for our constitutional institutions?

Taken from the Lord Chief Justice's speech at the Lord Mayor of London's judges dinner

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As long as the office of Lord Chancellor is held by an individual of integrity (as it has been during my 50 years in the law), it provides significant protection for the judiciary.

However, when the office of Lord Chancellor is abolished, the question will arise as to who is to take on the Lord Chancellor's role of speaking up for the judiciary in government and Parliament. If it is intended that the secretary of state will play this role, then it will be critical to ensure that those appointed as secretary of state are appropriately qualified in terms of background and experience to fill the vacuum that will otherwise exist.

The secretary of state will, however, no longer be able to act as head of the judiciary - he will not be a judge, so it will not be appropriate for him to undertake this role.

I recognise that decisions as to who is Lord Chancellor are for the government alone. The same is true of whether we continue to have a Lord Chancellor - though, of course, Parliament must implement any decision to transfer his statutory duties or legislative responsibilities to another body or individual.

But it must be a cause for concern that a decision to abolish such a historic office - with its pivotal role in the administration of justice as head of the judiciary - can be taken without consulting the judiciary. It does raise questions as to whether our constitution provides the protection it should for our constitutional institutions.

However, the decision has been taken that there should cease to be a Lord Chancellor and that there should be a Judicial Appointments Commission for England and Wales and a new Supreme Court for the United Kingdom. What matters now is how to ensure that these proposed new institutions will be as effective as possible and operate in a manner that enhances the independence of the judiciary and our justice system.

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