If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It
Prime Minister Blair last week accepted the “retirement” of Lord Irvine, the Lord Chancellor; and promptly announced that the position of Lord Chancellor would be abolished.
The role will be replaced by a Supreme Court, and a Minister for Constitutional Affairs.
In my opinion, there are a number of problems with this course of action:
The post of Lord Chancellor has been in existence for 1400 years. Its primary role has been to appoint the judiciary, and oversee the efficient and impartial operations of the judicial process. Its independence, and probity, has not been questioned before; yet the “rationale” for the change is to improve judicial independence. The reality belies the spin.
It is an ill kept secret that the Home Office has become increasingly exasperated by judges who exercise their independence, when interpreting the law. The nature of the current Administration is skewed towards centralisation and government control; they dislike independent thought. Therefore, I very much suspect that the government would prefer a politicisation of the judiciary.
Two weeks before making the announcement, Blair was pushing the idea of an Orwellian sounding “Ministry of Justice”. However, after lobbying from the Home Secretary (who feared the erosion of his role) the idea was dropped; and the Supreme Court suggestion was “cobbled together”. The idea has clearly not been thought through.
The man appointed to design and guide the constitutional changes is Blair’s friend, and former flat mate, Lord Falconer. This is the same man who deserves full credit for mis-managing the Dome fiasco. Scarcely someone to have confidence in with respect to a major “change management” project of this size and complexity.
The day after being appointed, Lord Falconer was seen in the House of Lords wearing the wig and robes of the office of Lord Chancellor (a position that had been abolished some 24 hours earlier). It appears that there is a procedural requirement, laid down in 1660, that requires the Lord Chancellor to be present when the House of Lords is sitting. It transpires that no one had thought of this when putting together these “plans”.
The judiciary needs to be politically independent if a democracy is to flourish and thrive. A State appointed Supreme Court is not independent. This idea undermines democracy.
In short, replacing a 1400 year old institution with an ill thought out “rag tag” bag of ideas; put together in a rush, is wrong. Act in haste, repent at your leisure!
The maxim, as invoked by Lord Hailsham a previous Lord Chancellor, applies:
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.