The End of an Era for the House of Lords

by Roger Alford

Since 1876 the House of Lords has served both as the court of last resort and the upper house of Parliament. In response to concerns for separation of powers, the Constitutional Reform Act of 2005 put an end to the judicial role of the House of Lords effective today, July 31, 2009. Marko Milanovic has an interesting post on the final days of the House of Lords sitting as the final court of appeal in England and Wales:

Yesterday the House of Lords delivered its last judgments as the final court of appeal in England and Wales. For many, many, many years (as with all thing English), the House of Lords had a dual function, sitting as both a part of the legislature and the judiciary. From 1 October this year, the new Supreme Court of the United Kingdom will be sitting on Parliament Square, comprised of twelve current Lords of Appeal in the Ordinary.

In parting, one could only say that if some of the other European states (you know who they are) had a judicial system that was even only half as effective as is the English judiciary, and the House of Lords in particular, in the protection of individual rights under the Human Rights Act … then the case load of the Strasbourg Court would not be as unmanageable…. Nor would, for that matter, the Court itself be the bloated, bureaucratic, basically almost entirely Registry-run institution that it is today.

5 Responses

  1. Thanks for the link. I share Marko’s lament, in fact, I think many of the current and proposed changes for the House of Lords are sheer folly and do not reflect a deep historical and political understanding or appreciation of its function. Unfortunately, many critics look to imitate the U.S. model of democratic government and governance.

    For those not familiar with the democratic function and virtues of the second chamber as a complementary body to the House of Commons I would recommend Dawn Oliver’s discussion: “The Modernization of the UK Parliament,” in Jeffrey Jowell and Dawn Oliver, eds., The Changing Constitution (5th ed., 2004): 256-279. Also invaluable is a short essay by John Parkinson, “The House of Lords: A Deliberative Democratic Defence,” The Political Quarterly, Vo. 78, No. 3 (July-September 2007): 374-381.

    I’m not arguing the second chamber should in every respect remain unchanged, only that many of the existing and proposed changes strike me as utterly bereft of political wisdom.

  2. For a bit more, see this post at PrawfsBlawg a couple of years ago and my comments, the bulk of which summarize material from Oliver (I had yet to read Parkinson’s essay):

  3. In addition to my comment awaiting moderation, see this post from Thom Brooks: 

  4. I think that depends on  the kind of ‘political’ you mean. I agree, btw – but I think the House of Lords padded its own coffin from Factortame* onwards, really, so I am not so sympathetic as I might be.

    *I believe that was the one where they held that the House of Commons could bind its predecessor. Helped make things easy for Europe (strike 3 against the HL) but also obliterated the fragile remnants of the British Constitution (strikes 1 and 2 and 3 as well while we are at it).

  5. @[insert here] delenda est: How else would you decide whether parliament can repeal the Canada Act (1982)?

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