Page last updated at 12:36 GMT, Thursday, 1 October 2009 13:36 UK

UK Supreme Court judges sworn in

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Lord Phillips, president of the new Supreme Court, is sworn in

The highest court in the United Kingdom has been formally opened, with the swearing in of its 11 justices in a ceremony in London.

The Supreme Court, housed at Middlesex Guildhall, replaces the Law Lords as the last court of appeal in all matters other than criminal cases in Scotland.

The court is independent of Parliament and will hear the most important cases.

Lord Phillips, President of the Supreme Court, said the change in form was important for judicial openness.

The judicial function of the House of Lords, whose powers had evolved over centuries, ended with the swearing in of Lord Phillips.

The justices wore black robes threaded with gold, replacing the full-bottomed wigs, robes and breeches of the lords.

The £59m Supreme Court has opened six years after it was first announced. Its first members were - until last month - the Law Lords who would have otherwise heard the same cases in the House of Lords.

But the constitutional change that led to the Supreme Court's creation means that Parliament's lawmakers and the judges charged with overseeing legislation have been separated.

Judges being sworn in at the Supreme Court
I would hope that the court is still sitting in 100 years' time and that when people look back at this step that they see it as a very significant step in the constitution of this country
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers

Scotland's supreme criminal court remains the High Court of Justiciary.

The swearing-in saw Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers become the first President of the Court.

He was joined by 10 other colleagues in taking an oath of allegiance to uphold the law. A final 12th member of the court will be appointed at a later date.

Lord Phillips said: "This is the last step in the separation of powers in this country. We have come to it fairly gently and gradually, but we have come to the point where the judges are completely separated from the legislature and executive.

"The change is one of transparency. It's going to be very much easier for the public to come to our hearings.

"I would hope that the court is still sitting in 100 years' time and that when people look back at this step that they see it as a very significant step in the constitution of this country."

While only the Law Lords' judgements were televised from Parliament, all of the Supreme Court's hearings will be open to the public.

Its building, in Parliament Square, Westminster, includes a public cafe and education facilities. For the first time, television cameras have been fitted into the courtrooms meaning that many hearings will be available to broadcasters.

Emblem of the Supreme Court
Supreme Court: Independent of Parliament

The Supreme Court sits for the first time later on Thursday to deal with a relatively minor issue relating to legal costs.

Its first major appeal hearing follows next week in a case concerning terrorist suspects whose assets have been frozen.

Although the actual business and workings of the justices will be essentially the same as those of the Law Lords, it will be watched closely to see if the move across Parliament Square will affect the way its decides cases.

One group of influential solicitors and barristers is launching a blog to monitor the Supreme Court's decision-making.

But others have criticised the change, arguing that it is largely a cosmetic exercise.

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