Skip to main content

Supreme Court

Volume 712: debated on Monday 20 July 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the arrangements for the transfer of judicial functions from the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords to the United Kingdom Supreme Court.

My Lords, arrangements for the transfer of judicial functions from the Appellate Committee to the new Supreme Court are on time and within budget and will meet the needs of the Supreme Court justices, court users and the public. On behalf of Her Majesty’s Government, I take this opportunity to thank the noble and learned Lords, the Law Lords, for the considerable personal contribution that they have made both to this House and to the design and functioning of the new Supreme Court.

My Lords, I thank the Minister and associate myself with his remarks. As justices of the Supreme Court who are appointed in the future will not be Members of this House, do the Government propose to ensure that this House will continue to benefit from the experience and expertise of retired senior judges? In particular, will they ensure that all retiring Supreme Court justices in the future are appointed to this House?

My Lords, justices of the Supreme Court who are appointed after October 2009 will not automatically become Members of the second Chamber on retirement, but could be considered for appointment by the Appointments Commission. It is right to say that former Law Lords will be able to take up their places again in the House of Lords on retirement from the Supreme Court, and it is right that this House needs a lot of expertise, particularly in that field, but I cannot give the noble Lord the assurance that he requires.

My Lords, to assist the House in appreciating whether this new creation has been value for money, will the noble Lord remind the House just how much the capital costs have been in creating this new Supreme Court and what the additional costs of running this will be, over and above what they would have been if left in this House?

My Lords, the set-up costs are £58.9 million, a figure which the House knows about and has been agreed. We are coming in within cost and I know that the noble Lord will be delighted to hear that. Running costs for the Supreme Court will be £12.3 million per year. This year, an extra £1.2 million for estimated national insurance contributions and pension contributions of the Law Lords will be transferred from another fund to those running costs. I do not think that the emergence of the Supreme Court will mean that it will cost the taxpayer much more money.

The new court is a fantastic symbol on Parliament Square. It will bring together the legislature on one side of this historic square, the Executive on another, the judiciary now will be on the third and, of course, the established Church is on the fourth.

My Lords, I do not know what will happen to the law books in our Library. The new Supreme Court has an excellent Library which will be used by the justices of the Supreme Court.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the transfer of the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords to the United Kingdom Supreme Court was for the purpose of dividing political and judicial responsibilities? If bringing Lords back into the House on that basis is the case, would it not have been better to leave them here in the first place?

My Lords, my noble friend is right in half of what he says. It is right that the separation of powers between the judiciary, the legislature and the Executive should be made even clearer, which this move does. However, what it also does—in some ways, this is as important—is to make the most important court in our land much more accessible to the public whom it is there to serve. Everyone knows that in this building it has not always been possible for the general public, particularly young people, to be able to watch the Law Lords in action. They will certainly be able to do that in the new court.

My Lords, would it not be possible for a peerage to be offered as an honour to these distinguished men who have spent their lifetime in the law? If they are expected to play a full part in the work of the House, I suspect that quite a lot of them will not accept.

My Lords, of course those who are serving Law Lords now and are shortly to become Supreme Court justices will come back with their honour when they retire from the Supreme Court. On the position of those who are made Supreme Court justices after the court is set up, as I have said, we cannot guarantee that they will become life Peers but they will be eligible to become so like everyone else.

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that no problems have arisen hitherto or are likely to arise between the Executive and Parliament, and between the judiciary and Parliament?

My Lords, it is true that the system has worked well, but it is important, particularly in modern times, that the separation of powers is made absolutely clear. We think that this is one of the advantages—not the only advantage, but one of them—of the change that has been made. The other—I shall repeat it because it is important—is accessibility to the highest court in the land.

My Lords, while some of my best friends are lawyers, including my noble friend at the Dispatch Box, does he not agree that it would be quite difficult for an objective observer to suggest that what this House suffers from is a serious shortage of lawyers? Does he therefore agree that in any consideration of the future composition of this House it is vital that we have the widest possible spread of professions and occupations and that places are not given automatically to any particular profession?

My Lords, I am sure that is exactly the way the Appointments Commission will deal with the matter.