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UK Supreme Court president warns funding method threatens judicial independence

UK Supreme Court [official website] President Nicholas Phillips [official profile] warned in a speech [text, PDF; UCL materials] Tuesday that the Supreme Court's reliance on the Ministry of Justice [official website] for funding threatens the court's independence. Phillips explained that unexpectedly low contributions from civil courts coupled with the economic crisis had forced the Supreme Court to turn to the Lord Chancellor, a member of parliament, for funding. One method of funding discussed and ultimately dismissed before the court opened in 2009 [JURIST report] was submission of a budget directly to the treasury. Phillips endorsed this approach. He told the audience:

My conclusion is that our present funding arrangements do not satisfactorily guarantee our institutional independence. We are, in reality, dependent each year upon what we can persuade the Ministry of Justice of England and Wales to give us by way of "contribution". This is not a satisfactory situation for the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. It is already leading to a tendency on the part of the Ministry of Justice to try to gain the Supreme Court as an outlying part of its empire.
Phillips also said he was concerned by comments from members of parliament criticizing judicial review of parliamentary and executive actions. Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Kenneth Clarke [official profile] dismissed Phillips' concerns [BBC report, audio] saying that the Supreme Court is fully independent in judicial matters, but does not have the right to determine its own budget. Phillips "can order me through his court to do whatever he likes, to obey the law," Clarke said, " [but] he can';t tell me how much he wants to spend and be free of the [budget] cuts. In that respect I'm afraid inevitably he's going to be subject to the same public expenditure negotiations as everybody else."

The Supreme Court was created to emphasize the split between the judicial and legislative branches of government. The court has said that "it will transform the public's awareness of justice at the highest level" and a "fundamental aim is to be as transparent as possible." The court is the first in the UK to record proceedings [JURIST report] and make them available to the media. In most cases, the court stands as the final court of appeal for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Additionally, the justices of the Supreme Court are no longer able to sit or vote with the House of Lords as they had done in their capacity as Law Lords. The Law Lords issued their final ruling [JURIST report] in July 2009.

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