Philip Hurst: 'A written constitution would bind the Prime Minister'

From a speech given at the Old Hall, Lincoln's Inn, London, by the constitutional lawyer

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The Government has proposed a wholesale constitutional restructuring, involving the higher judiciary, the courts and the House of Lords, in the form of a Constitutional Reform Bill.

The Government has proposed a wholesale constitutional restructuring, involving the higher judiciary, the courts and the House of Lords, in the form of a Constitutional Reform Bill.

What procedure of consultation and consensus-building took place before the announcement on 12 June last year that the Lord Chancellorship would be abolished and the House of Lords and the Supreme Court restructured? None actually. Was the Queen consulted? No. The Cabinet? The Senior Lord of Appeal? The Lord Chief Justice?

No. So far as we can tell, the Prime Minister returned from lunch that Friday, determined to implement the greatest shake-up of the courts and judiciary since the 19th century, and simply announced it.

The way in which our Government has handled the Constitutional Reform Bill, the fragility of "conventional" arrangements, the abridgement of individual rights wreaked by the Terrorism Act and associated legislation, all cry out for a codification of our constitution and of provisions for its amendment.

The right to be consulted on constitutional changes through referendum should be enshrined in that document: a referendum should not be an act of governmental gracious largesse, or desperation when there is no political alternative (such as over the EU constitutional treaty). Any government seeking to amend the constitution should be required to justify its proposals, consult widely, build consensus, and obtain the consent of the people in order to implement those changes.

We cannot call ourselves a true democracy when our Prime Minister can sit down one Friday afternoon and after a few minutes' reflection scribble down on the back of an envelope a fundamental restructuring of the administration of justice.

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