[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 July, 2004, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
Peers bar lord chancellor removal
Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer drew up the government's constitutional reform
Plans for constitutional reform have been thrown into confusion after the House of Lords voted to keep the historic post of lord chancellor.

Peers defeated the government, backing a Conservative amendment to the Constitutional Reform Bill by 240 votes to 208 votes, a majority of 32.

Ministers must now decide whether to try to reverse the vote in the Commons.

The lord chancellor is the country's senior judge, a government minister and speaker of the House of Lords.

The government thinks his many jobs should be divided between a cabinet minister for the constitution, a more powerful lord chief justice and speaker in the house of lords.

But the Tories believe only the lord chancellor's high office and legal expertise can defend the rule of law and judicial independence against government interference.

The government is going around rather like Boadicea in her chariot chopping off everything that they can
Earl Ferrers

Before the vote the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, said: "The time has come to accept this fundamental change".

But an alliance of Tories and crossbenchers backed a move to halt the government plans, which they say will threaten judicial independence.

Responding to the claims, Labour's Lord Brennan, former chairman of the Bar Council, said the reforms as a whole strengthened judicial independence.

He said the functions of the lord chancellor would be discharged equally well by a government minister.

During the debate, former Tory minister Lord Howe said the abolition of the post "could be almost compared with the events of September 11".

Lord Howe
Lord Howe has called the reform plans 'constitutional vandalism'

He described it as the "cornerstone of the constitution".

Tory former minister Earl Ferrers said the government was "going around rather like Boadicea in her chariot chopping off everything that they can, particularly in your Lordships' House."

Lord Goodhart, for the Liberal Democrats, proposed the alternative name of secretary of state for justice.

"We do not think the retention of an outdated title will assist in the protection of judicial independence."

Former law lord Lord Lloyd said the prime minister should be free to appoint whoever he wanted to run the courts.

But he warned that the task of defending judicial independence should not be given to "a politician on his way up the greasy pole".


The changes were announced as part of last year's Cabinet reshuffle, but the government was thwarted by the Lords when peers voted to send the bill to a select committee.

Speaking after the vote a Constitutional Affairs Department spokesman accused peers of "politicking" and said the house had taken a very serious step.

There didn't seem to be much disagreement about what the role of the Lord Chancellor should be
Lord Falconer
Lord Chancellor

"It is right that the elected House of Commons now considers the abolition of the lord chancellor," the spokesman added.

Shadow constitutional affairs secretary Alan Duncan said: "This is a stunning setback for Tony Blair who launched this cockeyed plan without even telling his Cabinet.

"It also shatters the personal authority of Lord Falconer."

But Lord Falconer disagreed and played down the significance of the setback.

He told BBC's Newsnight the peers were agreed on the substance of the reforms and it was only the title of the future post that was a source of disagreement.

He said: "The issue was about what he should be called."

The BBC's James Landale
"The government is facing a tough battle ahead"

More stalemate over law reforms
02 Jul 04  |  Politics
Lords inflict supreme court blow
09 Mar 04  |  Politics
At-a-glance: Law reforms report
02 Jul 04  |  Politics

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


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