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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 10:33 GMT 11:33 UK
Lord Chancellor gives up key role
Lord Falconer
Lord Falconer held a unique position as Lord Chancellor
The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has given up control of the judiciary in England and Wales as part of the government's constitutional reforms.

Lord Falconer will no longer combine the roles of the country's senior judge, a government minister and speaker of the House of Lords.

It is part of the changes to the lord chancellor's post announced in 2003.

The Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers, has taken over as head of the judiciary.

Unique position

The plans to axe the lord chancellor's post in 2003 triggered a political and constitutional row and eventually Tony Blair had to agree to modify - rather than scrap - the historic role.

The title will continue but the post may in the future be filled by an MP who is not a lawyer. Presently, it has to be taken by the most senior lawyer in the House of Lords.

The lord chancellor has held a unique position in Britain's unwritten constitution because of its triple role of senior minister, judge and speaker of the House of Lords.

Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers
Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers becomes head of the judiciary

Mr Blair said at the time he announced the shake-up plans that it was right to end the "anomalous" position which meant a cabinet minister was in charge of appointing judges

The lord chancellor will hand over the power to select judges to an independent appointments commission. The House of Lords has agreed to elect a lord speaker. Nominations will open in the summer and a result is expected in early July.

One of the issues Lord Falconer will also pass on to his replacement will be whether to get rid of the legal robes and wigs used in English courtrooms.

"It is a matter for the lord chief justice to decide as head of the judiciary from Monday," said Lord Falconer.

"He is in charge of what goes on inside each individual court. It should be for him to decide what he thinks are the appropriate standards of dress.

"We have discussed it. But I wouldn't like to say what we have said either way."

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