The new UK Supreme Court
On 1 October 2009, the Supreme Court of the UK opened for the first time. Located in Parliament Square, the new court replaces the (Appellate Committee of the) House of Lords, which had previously functioned as the highest court in the UK.
The Court consists of twelve Justices (although one is yet to be appointed), and is headed by the first President of The Supreme Court, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers. (Aside: I have always been a little hazy as to why certain Law Lords get the cool place-name-appendage and others don’t. Apparently, as now UK Supreme Court Justice, Baroness Hale of Richmond, explains (around the 15 minute mark), it is tied to the need for every member of the House of Lords to have a unique name.)
The appellate role of the House of Lords had evolved over hundreds of years; full-time professional judges had operated within it for more than 130 years. The replacement of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords with the Supreme Court was announced in 2003, and this change was implemented by the Constitutional Reform Act 2005.
The opening of the new Supreme Court represents more than just a change in name and premises: it is a significant constitutional milestone. According to Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, it is about giving ‘formal effect to an important constitutional principle — the separation of powers’. Indeed it is possible (as suggested here), that the new UK Supreme Court may view its institutional position in a somewhat different light, and may be more willing to flex its judicial muscle against the government. Interesting times await.
Image: wikimedia commons, Martin23230, Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0 License