Constitutional principles

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Lord Woolf in a recent interview expressed grave concerns regarding the reallocation of functions formerly under the control of the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor. Discuss the constitutional principles which Lord Woolf argued may be at risk including the separation of powers and the rule of law. Contents: (1) Introduction. (2) A brief history of recent constitutional reform. (3) Lord Woolf on the reallocation of powers. (4) Constitutionalism. (5) Conclusion. 1. Introduction Lord Woolf has voiced caution in the recent process of constitutional reform. His critique has been based on an understanding of the principles of the UK constitution and their functioning in practice. The former Lord Chief Justice urges remembrance of these foundations in seeking to improve the State, as failure may endanger liberty in the future. Before considering Lord Woolf’s comments and analysing their philosophical foundations, we will survey the legal changes and their political background. 2. A brief history of recent constitutional reform In 2003 the UK government continued a process of rapid reform which had already undertaken regional devolution, removal of hereditary peers from the House of Lords, the and integration of the European Convention on Human Rights among other smaller changes. A Department of Constitutional Affairs was created partly to assign the Lord Chancellor a new role distinct from the judiciary. Formerly the Lord Chancellor was at the root of the three branches of government – the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. The Constitutional Reform Act 2005 aimed to resolve this discrepancy to the principle of the separation of powers and ensure compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights Article 6: the right to a fair trial. After some wrangling with the House of Lords the Government Bill was passed. The judicial functions of the Lord Chancellor were distributed to the Lord Chief Justice. The role of Lord Speaker was relinquished, but the office of Lord Chancellor was retained as certain powers pertaining to the role can only be divested by Act of Parliament. The title of Lord Chancellor was to be held in conjunction with the new office of Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs. In May 2007 the Department for Constitutional Affairs was disbanded in favour of a new Ministry of Justice. The Secretary of State for Justice also took the title of Lord Chancellor, and possesses powers pertaining to prisons, probations and sentencing. Such powers formerly belonged to the Home Office, which now has the remit to concentrate on matters such as terrorism, policing and immigration. 3. Lord Woolf on the reallocation of powers Lord Woolf, the former Lord Chief Justice, pronounced criticism and cautious acceptance throughout the process of constitutional reform. Initially annoyed that the government’s plans to abolish the role of Lord Chancellor were announced somewhat surreptitiously on June 12th 2003 “in a press release” rather than a public debate, about which he was informed “minutes, rather than days” before (1). A slightly later statement claimed that the policy was made without consulting the judiciary and would create a “vacuum” in the constitution (2).

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