[Relevant Documents: First Report from the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Session 200304, HC 48-I and 48-II, on Judicial appointments and a Supreme Court (court of final appeal), and the Government's response thereto, Cm 6150; and the Third Report, Session 200405, HC 275-I and 275-II, on the Constitutional Reform Bill [Lords]: the Government's proposals.]
Mr. Grieve: This is a long list of amendments. They have been grouped correctly, although they deal with two separate issues. Amendment No. 350 deals with the issue of where, if there is to be supreme court, it will sit. Other amendments represent an attempt by the official Opposition to rewrite part of the Bill to retain the Law Lords while, at the same time, ensuring that there is an adequate independent commission for their appointment, as provided for in the legislation.
Amendment No. 350 would insert in clause 20, page 9, line 15 a requirement to situate the supreme court in the Palace of Westminster. Prior to the Bill's introduction, there was a great deal of discussion about the fact that a supreme court was needed, allegedly in part because the facilities in the other place were insufficient for the Law Lords. However, during the course of that debate, a strange situation arose. The Law Lords who are keenest to establish a supreme court, because they believe that there should be a separation from the House of Lords, are least enamoured of the
1 Feb 2005 : Column 719
Government's proposals to rehouse them in another location. The Government have a problem, as a sunrise clause in the Bill expressly provides that the supreme court will not come into being until suitable premises have been identified to house it. On Second Reading, the Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, the hon. Member for Shipley (Mr. Leslie), said with apparent certainty, although without making an official announcement, that the Government intended to house the new supreme court, which essentially takes over the role of the Law Lords with only a small amendment to their powers, on the other side of Parliament square in Middlesex guildhall, which is currently used as a Crown court. That building has been described by Lord Bingham, the senior Law Lord, as wholly unsuitable for the use of the new supreme court.
That should come as no surprise. When we consider the way in which the Law Lords operate, it is clear that theirs is a highly informal, Committee-based system of legal reasoning, which prides itself on the simplicity of the manner in which business is conducted. Complex rules of procedure are not necessary, nor is hierarchy. The Law Lords discharge their responsibilities as a corporate body. They can decide who will sit on an individual panel to deal with cases, and they do it in a Committee Room atmosphere, to which the public have access. Moreover, they can shift Committee Rooms in the other place if there is a need to accommodate more of the public to listen to the arguments. As was also pointed out in the course of debate in the other place, the nature of the argument that takes place in front of the Law Lords tends to be of quite an academic, if not esoteric, description, and is unlikely most of the time to have huge appeal to members of the general public. It is not the sort place where one will watch people being cross-examined on evidence.
In those circumstances, it is unbelievable that it has, apparently, been pre-ordained that the Law Lords are to be moved into an old civic institution, a building that I know very well because I have practised there as a barrister on many occasions. The building is suitable as a county hall for local government administration, albeit of a rather old-fashioned kind, and suitable as a Crown court setting, but I find it astonishing that the Government should conclude that the building is suitable to house the Law Lords in the discharge of their new responsibilities, if they are to be set up as a supreme court.