Church of England Article By Lord Taylor of Warwick
I will never forget my first appearance as a young barrister, arguing an appeal case in the House of Lords. Five of the six elderly men I was addressing listened to my submissions with a stony face that Buster Keaton could not have matched. But one nodded occasionally and even smiled at me. I drew encouragement from his reaction and focused my speech on him, hoping he would persuade his noble and learned colleagues to grant my client’s appeal.
When I finished speaking, the Law Lords rose to go and consider their judgement. As this was happening. the friendly one stood up and said in a loud cockney voice, “Court Rise”. He was not one of the Law Lords. He was the Usher! We learn by experience.
By the time I became a member of the House of Lords myself, my usher friend had retired. Then earlier this month the new Supreme Court took over the judicial functions of the House of Lords, a role which had previously been exercised by my Law Lord colleagues in parliament. Is this progress or prejudice, against a system which some say had been working perfectly well for centuries?
You might ask yourself when did the government make this decision, affecting the UK‘s most powerful court? Why can I not remember the debate about it? Do not worry, you have not lost your memory. There was hardly any discussion about it. So why the change?
The biblical concept of what a Judge should be is clear. His prime duty was to exercise absolute justice, indifferent to popular opinion, showing the same partiality to rich or poor, Jew or foreigner: Exodus 23: 2, ln modern times that image has been challenged greatly by factors such as the increasing cost of litigation and the power of the media. In this country our lives have become increasingly complicated by new laws at local, national and European level. There is now talk of global regulation, to try and harmonise our banking systems. But the more Laws we have the more danger there is of falling foul of the worst Law of all: The Law of Unforseen Consequences. I seem to recall, there are only Ten Commandments.
The main argument for reform was to separate the House of Lord’s role as a legislator from its judicial role. It is said that former Prime Minister Tony Blair was concerned that our unified system did not conform to the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. Some critics believe that a judge who exercises both political and judicial power cannot truly be seen as impartial when dispensing justice.
We were one of the few democracies that did not have this separation of powers, between law and politics. The United States‘ Judicial System has that division. It appears to have created more transparency. The judges of the American Supreme Court have a high profile. When a new Supreme Court judge is appointed in America, the process is covered extensively in the media. By contrast, our top judges have very little public profile.
The new UK Supreme Court hearings are far more accessible to the public and are available for television broadcast. However, I suspect it will never rival Strictly Come Dancing or The X Factor in viewer ratings. The reality is that the Law Lords have been transported to a building that is about 5 minutes walk away from the House of Lords, to what used to be Middlesex Crown Court. The Government says the cost of the whole project was £59 million. The Opposition claims it was more like £100 million. Whoever is correct, it is still a lot of money.
We have to recognise that even the most sophisticated system of Law that Man can devise is limited. Man cannot live by law alone. He needs the Holy Spirit working from within, to experience God‘s power to change lives. Nicodemus, (John 3; 9-19) was a Judge, a Pharisee steeped in the Law. He sneaked out under cover of darkness to find Jesus. He recognised Jesus had power, but did not understand where it came from. When Jesus explained that he must become born again, the learned Judge failed to understand that this revelation was not of the mind or intellect, but from the Spirit.
There is an old saying: The more laws, the more offenders. No law can change the heart of Man. It follows we will never improve society by law alone.
But the new Court has now started and we are where we are. Ultimately there is only one court which really counts and it is not in SW1. Psalm 65:4 “Blessed is the man whom you choose, and causes to approach you, that he may dwell in your courts”.