The Lord Chancellor has not quite gone. Lord Falconer has become Lord chancellor but will be the last to hold the post, which is to disappear shortly. Reading various British papers online, it appears that the Cabinet reshuffle was hasty because Alan Milburn, the Health Secretary, suddenly resigned. Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, was intending to resign anyway. So plans in the pipeline were brought forward. According to the Telegraph Online (registration required, costs nothing),
bq. Tory peers accused the Government of announcing a constitutional upheaval “worked out on the back of an envelope”. The Earl of Onslow condemned it as “playing Pooh sticks with 800 years of British history”.The Lord Chancellor has or had enormous power in appointing judges and QCs, even up to the law lords and other higher judicial posts given by the monarch but on advice. The Lord Chancellor’s Department website has information on this. The Lord Chancellor keeps records (yellow cards? yellow sheets?) on barristers and judges and the appointment process is often criticized because it is secret.
What I want to know is what the papers mean when they say the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords will be replaced by a ‘US-style “Supreme Court”‘. Do they mean because appointment will be by a committee? Will the relationship to the Court of Appeal be changed? The name ‘supreme court’ means something else in Britain anyway. The Independent writes:
bq. Within the next six weeks, he [Lord Falconer] will publish plans to create an independent Judicial Appointments Commission that will be able to appoint judges. Over the same period, proposals for an American-style “Supreme Court”, replacing the existing system of the Law Lords, will be published. Both plans will go out to consultation, with Downing Street refusing to be drawn on how long that could take.
The Neue Züricher Zeitung also has an article: Improvisierte Kabinettsumbildung in London.
Lord Falconer is Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. One would have expected a Department of Justice to be created. but apparently the Home Secretary is retaining too much of criminal justice for that to be viable.
bq. The sense that the changes had been rushed was heightened by Lord Falconer, who said, as he stood side by side with Mr Blunkett at the public launch of the reforms, that he could not go into any finer points. “Now is not the time for the detail,” he said.