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Last Updated: Monday, 14 July, 2003, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Q&A: Legal reforms
Consultation plans on the decision to abolish the post of lord chancellor and set up a supreme court were unveiled on Monday. BBC News Online examines the background.

What does the lord chancellor do?

The lord chancellor is a role which stretches back more than a thousand years in Britain.

He is a cabinet minister, is head of the judiciary and sits as a judge, and also presides over the House of Lords, sitting on the famous "woolsack".

Why is the post being scrapped?

Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the change in his reshuffle.

There has been criticism that it is just not right that a cabinet minister should also sit as a judge - hardly the "separation of the powers" preached to new democracies.

The government also believes that the lord chancellor's role is too wide.

By setting up a new Department of Constitutional Affairs, it should be possible to focus much more on establishing the best possible justice system, it says.

All judges would also be selected by an independent appointments' commission, rather than by a politician lord chancellor.

And what is all this about a supreme court?

At present, the law lords, on a special committee of the House of Lords, act as the highest court in the land.

That arrangement has also provoked disquiet, with critics saying it is very odd for the law lords to both help make the laws when legislation is passed and then independently judge how they are applied.

Now ministers want that system to end and for it to be replaced by a separate supreme court.

What else will the Department of Constitutional Affairs do?

Controversially, it will also take on responsibilities of Scotland and Wales Offices

There will, however, be Scottish and Welsh Secretaries able to answer questions in the House of Commons.

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