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History > 2009 > UK > Supreme Court (I)




Queen Elizabeth II

Opens New UK Supreme Court


October 16, 2009
Filed at 11:02 a.m. ET
The New York Times


LONDON (AP) -- Queen Elizabeth II formally opened Britain's new Supreme Court on Friday in a ceremony attended by high court justices from the United States and around the world.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown and top judges from Canada, Australia, India, South Africa and Europe attended the ceremony for a court the government says will make the workings of justice visible and accessible to the British public.

U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts and justices Stephen Breyer and Antonin Scalia watched the ceremony, which included prayers led by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and a verse for the new court by former poet laureate Andrew Motion.

U.S. justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also had been scheduled to attend, but she became ill just before her plane took off from Washington late Wednesday and was briefly hospitalized. U.S. court officials said Ginsburg, 76, became drowsy because of a reaction to medicine.

For hundreds of years, Britain's highest court of appeal was the Law Lords, a group of justices who sat in Parliament's upper chamber, the House of Lords.

Earlier this month the judges shed their wigs and ermine-trimmed robes and moved to a new home in a renovated 100-year-old courthouse across Parliament Square from the Houses of Parliament. The court began hearing cases Oct. 5.

The government says the new court corrects one of the quirks of Britain's ancient and unwritten constitution, separating the country's judicial and legislative powers after hundreds of years of muddled compromise.

Brown said that, with the formation of the court, ''a separation of powers once only guaranteed by convention is now cemented by statute.''

The new court also is equipped with cameras and microphones so proceedings can be broadcast. Recording is prohibited in most British courts.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said Friday that the Supreme Court underlined the independence of the judicial system.

He said the work of the Law Lords had been ''opaque and was obscured from public view.''

''In this place we now have this court -- public, accessible, visible -- situated in this square at the heart of our nation's history over a millennium,'' Straw said.

    Queen Elizabeth II Opens New UK Supreme Court, NYT, 16.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/10/16/world/AP-EU-Britain-Supreme-Court.html






Britain's New Supreme Court Swings Into Action


October 5, 2009
Filed at 5:53 a.m. ET
The New York Times


LONDON (AP) -- Britain's most powerful judges take up their first case this week with new robes, new titles, a new courtroom and -- some argue -- more power.

Monday marks the hearing of the first case by Britain's new Supreme Court, a group of 12 justices who were until recently known as the Law Lords.

They are to hear an appeal by five unnamed terror suspects who have had their financial assets frozen by the British government. The five now need to ask formal permission to access their money to buy groceries and other living expenses.

A High Court judge ruled last year that Britain's finance department had no right to freeze suspects' bank accounts, but that decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The justices hearing the case used to make their rulings from the red benches of the stately House of Lords. But they now hear cases in a newly renovated Supreme Court building, which was previously known as the Middlesex Guildhall.

The removal of the nation's highest court from the legislature is meant to emphasize Britain's separation of powers. The Supreme Court building faces Britain's Houses of Parliament, the Treasury building and Westminster Cathedral across the open space of Parliament Square.

One leading judge has argued that the focus on independence might make the new court more muscular in its judgments -- and potentially more ambitious. In an interview with BBC radio last month, David Neuberger, one of the country's most senior judges, said there was a risk of the Supreme Court justices ''arrogating to themselves greater power than they have at the moment.''

The sentiment was disputed by the Supreme Court's president, Lord Phillips, who said such a move was unlikely -- although he did acknowledge it was a possibility.


On the Net:


    Britain's New Supreme Court Swings Into Action, NYT, 5.10.2009, http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2009/10/05/world/AP-EU-Britain-Supreme-Court.html