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a supreme court for the uk August 29, 2009

Posted by Bradley in : dispute resolution , trackback

In just over a month’s time the UK’s new Supreme Court will start work in a new building (well, a repurposed older building), and it has a new website. In a very British sort of a way, the new website emphasises both continuity and change:

1 October 2009 marks a defining moment in the constitutional history of the United Kingdom: transferring judicial authority away from the House of Lords, and creating a Supreme Court for the United Kingdom in the historic setting of the former Middlesex Guildhall on Parliament Square.

The old Law Lords will move to the new building, becoming the first Justices of the Supreme Court, and they will also sometimes be operating as the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. But whereas there was just one House of Lords they will now be among a number of Justices of different Supreme Courts around the world.

The aims of the website seem a bit confused. Bits of it seem to be designed to attract attention rather than to assume that people will pay attention because the court is important. The US Supreme Court’s website makes this assumption, and seems more serious by doing so. In contrast, I find the UK Supreme Court page about the significance of the court to the UK to be a bit weird:

The Supreme Court has been established to achieve a complete separation between the United Kingdom’s senior Judges and the Upper House of Parliament, emphasising the independence of the Law Lords and increasing the transparency between Parliament and the courts….
For instance, in their previous role as the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, the Justices gave landmark rulings on the legality of the Hunting Act 2004 under European law, and whether or not a schoolgirl could be prevented from wearing traditional cultural dress.

The House of Lords never seemed to have much of a problem with independence (although the Law Lords did sometimes interfere a bit in the legislative process and then of course they would have to interpret the results of the legislative process…) but what does this “increasing the transparency between Parliament and the courts” language mean? And doesn’t the reference to just two high profile cases make it seem like what the court will do is just more reality tv (proceedings will be filmed)?

The UK Supreme Court’s website is also very corporate, telling us about the Court’s Executive Team and providing an organisational chart. I care much more about the substance of what the new court does than about who its administrators are.

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