[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Thursday, 19 June, 2003, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Lord chancellor timetable unveiled
Lord Falconer takes to the Woolsack in the Lords on Friday
Falconer used to share a flat with Tony Blair
Controversial constitutional reforms which include the abolition of the ancient post of lord chancellor could be in place within 18 months, according to Lord Falconer.

The reforms - which include the creation of a new constitutional affairs ministry, the downgrading of the posts of Welsh and Scottish secretaries and the creation of a supreme court - were the surprise announcement of last week's cabinet reshuffle.

The news provoked a political storm and on Wednesday Tony Blair was forced to the Commons to deliver a statement.

The prime minister told MPs the shake-up represented "essential acts of constitutional modernisation" which would eventually be welcomed.

These reforms, once effected will allow the abolition of the post of lord chancellor we think within about 18 months
Lord Falconer
He added that it was right to axe the post of lord chancellor and end the "anomalous" position which meant a cabinet minister was in charge of appointing judges.

And he pledged that there would be "extensive consultation" about the changes which ushered in a new constitutional affairs department.

But Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith accused Mr Blair of treating the constitution like his "personal plaything" in what was "the most botched, bungled and damaged reshuffle in modern times".

Now Lord Falconer - the new lord chancellor who will head the constitutional affairs ministry - has announced a timetable for consultation.

Consultation

A discussion paper on the creation of a new appointments body for judges - one of the planned changes - will be published on 14 July.

In the autumn another document will be published which will look at who is to take over some of the other key roles of the lord chancellor.

Former Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine, centre, Lord Woolf, left, and Lord Phillips
Barristers are concerned about the detail of changes to the judiciary
Lord Falconer said: "These reforms, once effected will allow the abolition of the post of lord chancellor, we think within about 18 months.

"These are not new concepts, they have been debated for many years.

"We believe the time is right to do them.

"We are completely committed to introducing these changes but of course there needs to be detailed consultation on how these measures are to be done."

Controversial

Lord Falconer - who used to be Mr Blair's flatmate and whose appointment to such a powerful position is in itself highly controversial - also said work would get underway to decide where the supreme court would be constructed.

Legislation on the court and on the judicial appointments commission would follow in the new year.

"We will start now because it's absolutely clear there is going to be a supreme court and it's plainly going to have a home," said Lord Falconer.

I have different relationships with all of you [call me] 'Secretary of State' or 'Charlie' depending on how well you knew me before
Lord Falconer
"We are not nearly far enough advanced to say where it might be.

"We do not have in mind a supreme court like the supreme court of the United States of America, i.e. a supreme court that is able to override statutes."

Confidence?

Lord Falconer also highlighted the need to "insulate" the appointment of judges from politicians.

"I believe that if we have an independent appointments commission appointing judges or having a much more critical role rather than it being done by one person who has always been above 50 years old with a background in the Bar, that will inevitably diversify the people appointed as judges," he said.

Appointments had to be on merit in order to engender public confidence in the system.

At the London news conference Lord Falconer was asked whether he should be addressed as lord chancellor or secretary of state.

He replied: "I have different relationships with all of you - 'Secretary of State' or 'Charlie' depending on how well you knew me before."




RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific