Government reforms could bring overhaul of Privy Council function

The judicial function of the Privy Council is facing a radical review similar to that announced for the Law Lords last week.

If it remains attached to the House of Lords, the Privy Council would be at risk of breaching the Government’s new, or newly enforced, principle of outlawing connections between the judiciary and the legislature.

Last week, the Government announced plans to introduce a supreme court filled with the current 12 Law Lords, along with the scrapping of the Lord Chancellor’s Department. The post of Lord Chancellor was also abolished, resulting in Lord Irvine’s retirement.

It is understood that the reforms stemmed from increasing pressure from senior members of the Lords, particularly Lord Bingham and Lord Steyn.

The Privy Council, which in its legal capacity also deals with devolution matters, is likely to form part of the proposed supreme court, although this will require agreement from the territories that refer criminal cases to it.

Some of the 12 Law Lords are known to dislike undertaking such cases because of their lack of experience of criminal cases, while some of the territories are against the UK’s ban on the death penalty.

The Government is considering applying the rules that govern the US Supreme Court, although it is highly unlikely that it will mirror the US policy of the President making judicial appointments to the court.

However, it is expected that the Commission for Judicial Appointments, which until now advised the Lord Chancellor on the process of judicial appointment and investigated complaints, will nominate judges, while a special Lords committee will make the final selection.