Select Committee on Public Administration Fifth Report

The Law Lords

150. Both the Royal Commission and the White Paper, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, recommended that the law lords should remain in the second chamber for the time being at least. The Royal Commission report, which recognised that it was less than perfect to include this highest judicial function in the Lords, decided that it was prudent to defer the question of whether there should be a separate supreme court. They believed that another royal commission or similar body could examine the issue in a more appropriate context. Meanwhile, the Commission recommended that the law lords should continue to sit in the second chamber.

151. The White Paper was very positive about the value of the law lords' presence in the House, citing their specialist expertise and long experience. The Government proposal is that the law lords should remain in the chamber until they reach 75.

152. Against this, we were impressed by the very different views expressed by the senior law lord, Lord Bingham, who recently raised the issue of whether it was desirable that the second chamber should address judicial functions at all. He cited the Pinochet case which misled some into thinking that "the issue had ceased to be a judicial and had become a political one". He also complained that the operations of the Law Lords were hampered by the cramped accommodation they were forced to use in the House. He called for the creation of a supreme court with proper facilities.[64]

153. We recognise that this will take time to plan and to organise, and that there may be a need for a specific inquiry of the kind envisaged by the Royal Commission. But to concentrate minds, and to set a timescale for the exercise, we recommend that the law lords should leave the second chamber at the next general election but one. That should allow plenty of time to think through the consequences for the legal system, and to make the necessary provision for an independent, properly constituted supreme court.

64   JUSTICE Annual Law Lecture 4 October 2001 Back

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