The Office of Lord Chancellor is the highest office in the United Kingdom and is responsible for the running of justice in the country. Currently has three members- the current Lord Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor, and the Secretary to the Lord Chancellor.
The Office of Lord Chancellor
The office of Lord Chancellor derives from the Norman Conquest when the King’s secretary became known as the royal ‘chancellor’. The first Chancellor is recorded in 1068. In the Middle Ages, the primary role of the Chancellor was to preside over parliament. From the fourteenth century, his functions have been both parliamentary and judicial, in the latter role presiding over the Court of Chancery until 1875.
Prior to the Constitutional Reform Act 2005, the office of Lord Chancellor spanned 4 three institutions of the state, the executive, legislature, and judiciary. The Lord Chancellor was a politically appointed member of the Cabinet, the speaker of the House of Lords, and the head of the judiciary.
Furthermore, as a senior judge, the Lord Chancellor was entitled to participate in judicial proceedings, although by convention he would not adjudicate cases that involved the government or were overtly political in nature.
As head of the judiciary, with wide-ranging powers relating to the appointment of judges, the Lord Chancellor acted as the spokesperson for the judges and defended their independence from interference by the executive. Lord Chancellor Birkenhead (1872-1930), for example, defended the link between the head of the judiciary and the Cabinet in 1922.
… itis difficult to believe that there is no necessity for the existence of such a personality, imbued on the one hand with legal ideas and habits of thought, and aware on the other of the problems which engage the attention of the executive government. In the absence of such a person, the judiciary and the executive are likely enough to drift asunder to the point of violent separation, followed by a still more violent and disastrous collision.
More recently, Lord Hailsham, Lord Chancellor 1979 and 1987, argued that it is vital that:
… the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law should be defended inside the Cabinet as well as in Parliament. The Lord Chancellor must be and must be seen to be, a loyal colleague, not seeking to dodge responsibility for controversial policies, and prepared to give to Parliament a justification for his own acts of administration.
However, whatever perceived advantages flowed from the close relationship between the executive and Lord Chancellor were outweighed by the criticism that the office of Lord Chancellor represented a major breach in the separation of powers, and could not withstand the allegation that the office raised doubts about the independence of the judiciary.
As discussed below, the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 reforms the office of Lord Chancellor in a manner which establishes 4 clearer separations of powers between the executive, legislature, and judiciary. The office of Lord Chancellor is retained in name but the powers of the office are radically curtailed.
The post combined with that of the Secretary of State for Justice. The office holder must be ‘qualified by experience but need not be a lawyer, and in the future, the Lord Chancellor will not exercise any judicial functions nor will he sit as Speaker of the House of Lords.
Section 1 of the Act makes explicit reference to the rule of law, stating that the Act does not adversely affect the principle of the Lord Chancellor’s existing role in protecting the rule of law.
Section 3 imposes a statutory duff on the Lord Chancellor and other ministers of the Crown and those with responsibility for matters relating to the judiciary to uphold the continued independence of the judiciary.
Further reform followed in 2007 when the government decided to divide the Hom Office into two departments and to create a Ministry of Justice.
The Ministry assumed the responsibilities formerly undertaken by the Department of Constitutional Affairs and is responsible for the Courts Service, the Judicial Appointments Commission, the Tribunals Service, and Legal Aid.
The Ministry of Justice also sponsors the Parole Board, the body which considers whether it is safe for prisoners to be released into the community or whether, on grounds of dangerousness, they should remain in prison.
In conclusion, the Office of Lord Chancellor is a powerful and important part of the British government. It is responsible for providing legal advice to the government and making decisions about important legal issues. The office is also responsible for ensuring that laws are fair and consistent.
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