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Last Updated: Friday, 2 July, 2004, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
More stalemate over law reforms
Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer, the lord chancellor, drew up the bill
Attempts to break the stalemate in the House of Lords over plans for sweeping changes to Britain's legal landscape have failed.

A Lords committee formed to look at the Constitutional Reform Bill has failed to reach agreement on the main issues.

Many minor amendments were agreed but opposition remains to replacing the law lords with a Supreme Court and scrapping the post of lord chancellor.

An amended Bill will now be debated on by peers on 13 July.

Divisions

The committee was set up four months ago against the government's wishes amid disquiet from peers about the plans.

Publishing its findings on Friday, the committee said: "Views ... were sharply divided on two major aspects of reforms - abolition of the office of lord chancellor and the creation of a Supreme Court to replace the law lords."

Chairman Lord Richard said: "These two issues were major constitutional changes and it is right that they should be determined by Parliament as a whole."

The virtue of the report is in the detail
Lord Richard
Committee chairman

On the issue of the lord chancellor, however, he said the committee accepted that "change is inevitable".

Nobody had suggested the clock be turned back to before the proposal was first made on June last year, he added

There were those who thought the person in charge of judicial matters should be a senior lawyer who sat in the House of Lords, called the lord chancellor.

Others believed he should be a minister - not necessarily with legal qualifications.

The committee could not agree on whether to set up a Supreme Court, replacing the law lords as the final court of appeal.

But it hoped it had drawn up a "reasonable blueprint" for its structure - should Parliament approve the court plan.

Independence

Earlier this year, peers said the Bill was "ill thought out" and threatened the independence of the judiciary.

The government was forced to offer last-minute concessions to strengthen judicial independence as it tried to avoid a showdown with the Lords over the bill.

Despite those moves, the committee failed to agree on whether measures to guarantee judicial independence were adequate.

The government are heading for very heavy weather indeed over this piece of constitutional vandalism
Lord Howe, former Tory lord chancellor

But it did manage to win a concession from the government that should a Supreme Court be established it should receive funding directly from the Treasury.

Lord Richard said he had never thought the committee would be able to resolve the differences over the "controversial" proposals.

But he said he believed its work in "improving the bill" would stand "for generations to come".

"The virtue of the report is in the detail," he added.

Labour MP and QC Vera Baird said the failure of the committee to agree was the result of "political obstructionism by the Tories".

She told BBC Radio 4's World At One the argument for change was "unbeatable" arguing that the justice system had to be accountable like every other department of state.

Stormy warning

But former Chancellor Tory Lord Howe said it was "inevitable" the committee had failed to reach an agreement on the controversial plans.

The case for the changes had simply not been made out, he said.

"The government are heading for very heavy weather indeed over this piece of constitutional vandalism," he added.

The Lords committee included five Labour peers including Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer, five Tories, three Liberal Democrats and three independent peers.

It was the first time the Lords had referred a rejected government Bill to a select committee since 1975.

As he vowed to pursue the reform proposals, Lord Falconer said the committee's work would help provide informed debate on the plans.




SEE ALSO:
At-a-glance: Law reforms report
02 Jul 04  |  Politics
Supreme court 'could cost 32m'
25 Feb 04  |  Politics
Showdown over supreme court
08 Mar 04  |  Politics
Lords inflict supreme court blow
09 Mar 04  |  Politics
The Constitutional Reform Bill
06 Mar 04  |  Law in Action


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