UK gets its first Supreme Court

Judges parade to the Parliament after attending a service at Westminster Abbey in London on Thursday. REUTERS

Eleven new Justices took their oaths of office in the new Supreme Court building across Parliament Square in central London at a function attended among others by India’s Law Minister M Veerappa Moily.

Law Lords in the House of Lords, upper house of the British Parliament, thus far used to perform the role of final court of appeal for England, Wales and Northern Ireland since 1876. Before then, it was the job of ordinary peers.

The court is independent of Parliament and will hear the most important cases, thereby breaking the convention according to which the legislature used to enjoy judicial powers.

After his swearing in, Lord Nicholas Phillips, the President of the new court, said the move was important for “judicial openness”.  He said: “This is the last step in the separation of powers in this country. We have come to it fairly gently and gradually, but we have come to the point where the judges are completely separated from the legislative and executive.” “The change is one of transparency. It’s going to be very much easier for the public to come to our hearings.  I would hope that the court is still sitting in 100 years time and that when people look back at this step that they see it as a very significant step in the constitution of this country,” the new president said.

The Supreme Court, which sits opposite Parliament in London, was opened six years after the government took a decision in this regard.

Its first 11 members were until last month the Law Lords.      But the constitutional change that led to the Supreme Court’s creation means that Parliament’s lawmakers and the judges charged with overseeing legislation, have finally been separated.  
The Supreme Court sits for the first time later on the day to deal with a relatively minor issue relating to legal costs.     

Its first major appeal hearing follows next week in a case concerning terrorist suspects whose assets have been frozen.

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