Britain on Friday embarked on what Prime Minister Gordon Brown described as a new “journey as a nation” as the Queen formally opened the country’s newly-created Supreme Court, marking a historic shift of judicial authority from the House of Lords, which for hundreds of years had been the highest court of appeal.
Senior judges from around the world, including India, attended the high-profile event hailed by Justice Secretary Jack Straw as a “significant step” in the evolution of British “tradition, culture and history” and a culmination of an idea first mooted in 1873.
Experts said the new court corrected one of the “quirks” of Britain’s unwritten constitution.
Located in Parliament Square in a refurbished grand building, close to the Houses of Parliament, the Supreme Court was established on October 1 when Law Lords — shedding their traditional robes and wigs — moved from the House of Lords to their new home. It has been hearing cases since October 5.
Friday’s official opening saw the Queen unveil a commemorative bronze sculpture and join in the prayers led by the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Wiliams. She also took a tour of the building, accompanied by her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh.
The former poet laureate, Andrew Motion, read his poem ‘Lines for the Supreme Court’ commissioned by the Justices of the Supreme Court to mark its establishment. The poem has been engraved into the stone benches outside the front entrance of the Supreme Court building.
Chief Justice Lord Phillips described the moment as a “major constitutional landmark …It unequivocally separates the senior judiciary from the legislature and the executive, but also brings other benefits.”
In a move towards making the judicial process more transparent, the court confirmed that it would allow its proceedings to be televised.
In a speech, Mr. Brown said the separation of power was now “cemented by statute.”
“The Supreme Court whose very existence reminds us that because of the protection offered to every citizen of the United Kingdom and because of the rule of law, our society can flourish, our economy can prosper, our democracy can endure and justice can always prevail.”
Mr. Straw said that although the Law Lords had served with “great distinction” over many years the institution was “obscured” from public scrutiny.
“In this place we now have this court — public, accessible, visible — situated in this square at the heart of our nation’s history over a millennium,” he said.