The reform of the judicial functions of the house of lords

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  • Publicado : 1 de enero de 2011
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Of the current day House of Lords, 615 are appointees, a further 92 are hereditary peers, among the other members 26 archbishops, and 12 law lords. The House of Lords, in addition to having a legislative function, has a judicial function as it is the highest court of appeal in the UK. Today, the House's jurisdiction is essentially limited to the hearing of appeals from the lower courts by thoselords who are legally qualified (Lords of Appeal in Ordinary, or Law Lords), usually in a committee known as the House of Lords Appellate Committee. However Part 3 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, which received Royal Assent on 24 March 2005 but has not yet come into force, will change all of this. The act will abolish the judicial functions of the House of Lords, and transfer them to a newbody -- the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom -- which will initially consist of the existing Law Lords. One of the most radical reforms was that to the position of the office of the Lord Chancellor, which was reformed to remove his ability to act as both a government minister and a judge. These reforms have been motivated by concerns that the historical admixture of legislative, judicial, andexecutive power might not be in conformance with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights, because a judicial officer, having legislative or executive power, is likely not to be considered sufficiently impartial to provide a fair trial. For example in comparison to another European system, the Spanish system appoints their judiciary through a regulated system controlled by theState, along with the majority of the rest of the civil system.

Major Reforms:

Some of the most major reforms see in the 2005 Act are to do with the organisation of the judicial branch of the House of Lords. For example, the Lord Chancellor is no longer speaker. The Speaker now takes the title of Lord Speaker and The Lord Chief Justice replaces the Lord Chancellor as head of the Englishjudiciary. The new ´Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will be established however the new Supreme Court will need a new building, separate from the Houses of Parliament where the House of Lords currently sits. The act establishes a U.K. Supreme Court and denies the right of the most senior judges, who are called the “law lords”, to sit in the legislative chamber of the House of Lords. The Act set upa new Judicial Appointments Commission, which is responsible for selecting judges in England and Wales. However the most important judicial reform that can be seen is to the role of the Lord Chancellor.

Changes to the role of the Lord Chancellor:

The development of the expansion of judicial review; the incorporation--by means of the Human Rights Act 1998--of the European Convention onHuman Rights (ECHR) into U.K. law; effected the Lord Chancellor´s judicial role. Moreover as British judges are within the political arena, especially as their roles could be argued to be blurred between the boundary of law and politics, the need to reform was evident. Article 6 (1) of the ECHR also played its part in encouraging the need for judges not only to be independent but to be identifiableand transparent. Indeed the UK system is the only European system that does not have a separate high court, for example in Spain we have El Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, and no one that is part of parliament can be a member of the judiciary as well.

The reforms completely change the multiple roles of the Chancellor: as cabinet minister; as head of a government department with responsibility forthe courts and judicial appointments. For example; (1) as a judge, (2) as head of the judiciary and (3) finally as a speaker in the legislative chamber of the House of Lords. This led to political and judicial problems when Lord Chancellor Irvine played a central role in the government of Tony Blair, as the relationship led to questions about the judicial independence of the high court of the UK...
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