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UK judiciary should be consulted on constitutional changes: chief justice

[JURIST] The head of the UK's judiciary on Wednesday said that judges have been improperly excluded [text, PDF] from debate over "major constitutional changes" in recent years. In a speech at a judicial banquet held by the Lord Mayor of London Ian Luder, Lord Chief Justice Lord Igor Judge [official profiles] suggested that judges may have a have a "duty to speak" when issues affecting "constitutional arrangements and the administration of justice" are being considered by parliament, despite a new law that removes the Chief Justice's ability to speak in the House of Lords [official website]. Judge addressed a proposal to allow judicial review of parliamentary actions, saying that the he was "concerned" by the proposal because "it is imperative that ultimate responsibility for the governance of Parliament should remain with Parliament."

As I have said the judiciary should not be involved in the parliamentary process ... . Responsibility for ensuring that our parliamentary arrangements are satisfactory is vested directly in the High Court of Parliament itself, and it is and should remain accountable, not to the judiciary but to the electorate which, in our democratic process, ultimately hires and fires both the executive and the major legislative body.

Judge also expressed his disapproval of the enactment of new criminal justice laws, asking parliament if they can "possibly have less legislation, particularly in the field of criminal justice." He detailed the criminal statutes passed in 2003, including the Criminal Justice Act which had "339 sections and 38 schedules with a total of 1169 paragraphs" and "no less than 20 pages of statutory repeals," despite some of them going into "some sort of statutory limbo."

In January Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers [BBC profile], Judge's predecessor as chief justice, criticized [JURIST report] the increased difficulty and judicial workloads that resulted from a "stream of legislation."Phillips has previously spoken out against perceived problems with the UK justice system. In May 2007, he expressed concern over constitutional problems surrounding the split [BBC report] of the Ministry of Justice from the Home Office [official websites]. In March of that year, he said that government sentencing minimums [JURIST report] set in 2003 threatened to eventually fill up the country's prisons with "geriatric lifers." Phillips is expected to head the UK Supreme Court [JURIST report] when it opens in 2009.

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