The Times (London)
May 17, 2004, Monday
Supreme court plan is put on ice for ten years
BYLINE: Frances Gibb Legal Editor
SECTION: Home news; 1
LENGTH: 481 words
Flagship plans for a new supreme court are to be put into "cold storage" for up to ten years after the failure of efforts to find a suitable site.
In a move which removes a main plank of the Government's legal reforms, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, the Lord Chancellor, will amend the Constitutional Reform Bill to say that the new court will not come into being until a building is ready.
The Lord Chancellor had previously indicated that plans to divorce the law lords from the House of Lords could go ahead without a new building.
The law lords have rejected the only remaining possible site, the Middlesex Guildhall in Parliament Square, and Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the senior law lord, has told Lord Falconer that to create the court without the law lords moving would be intolerable, leaving them as "squatters" in their House of Lords corridor.
Lord Bingham has told the select committee of peers sitting on the Bill that the Middlesex Guildhall site is "wholly unacceptable" as it is in the design of a criminal court with tiered benches and a dock. Any alterations would have to be agreed with English Heritage. An official said: "An amendment is being drawn up which would say that the court does not come into effect until a suitable building has been found. This could take several years -especially if a new building has to be built."
The delay is the latest in a series of embarrassments for the Government over the reforms, which were attacked as ill-thought-out when they were announced last year. The passage of the Bill was delayed when peers insisted that it be sent to a select committee.
A Department for Constitutional Affairs spokeswoman conceded that it was unlikely that a building for the new court would be ready before the Bill creating it became law, but disputed that the delay could last a decade. "The Department for Constitutional Affairs is working with the law lords to find suitable accommodation for the new supreme court," she said.
"There is absolutely no question of a delay remotely in the region of ten years.
The precise process of how the lords move into the new building depends on the detail of the building, and any refurbishment that might be necessary."
Senior judges have also said that plans for appointing supreme court judges leave it open to political interference. Lord Justice Keene, the chairman of the Judicial Studies Board which is in charge of training judges, said that it allowed for judges to be chosen because they were "pliable".
He told The Times: "A lot of litigation takes place between citizens and the state, or government departments, and citizens must have confidence that at all levels of courts, judges are selected on merit and are genuinely independent, not because they are seen by a minister as 'one of us' -or at least as being more pliable than another candidate."
LOAD-DATE: May 17, 2004
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