House of Lords' law function passes into history

House of Lords' law function passes into history

The creation of the Supreme Court is part of Gordon Brown government's parliamentary reform, and a law to create the Supreme Court was passed in 2005. Today the House of Lords will hear the last set of appeals as the law lords pass into history.

The 12 law lords, who constituted the highest court of appeal, will function as justices of the Supreme Court, and move from the House of Lords to the Middlesex Guildhall on Parliament Square. The court will start functioning from 1 October.

After this afternoon, the law lords will lose their right to speak and vote in the House of Lords until their retirement as justices of the new court. The creation of Supreme Court means that the judicial functions will finally be separated from Parliament, which will become a purely legislative body.

The Supreme Court's proceedings will be televised, with justices seated at eye level with the lawyers and the visiting public in the courtrooms.

One of the landmark cases heard by the law lords was of the East India Company in the 17th century.

In 1657, merchant Thomas Skinner sailed east in the hope of making some money, and used an island off India that he had bought from the local monarch as his base.

But the then East India Company believed he was poaching on its territory, seized his ship, his home, and his island, and made him take the long journey home overland.

The Lords awarded Skinner 5,000 pounds in damages, but the East India Company refused to accept their jurisdiction and appealed to the House of Commons, which had Skinner locked up in the Tower of London.

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