The Supreme Court - what’s it all about?

    November 2009

    Six and a half years ago, the Government announced that a Supreme Court was to be created and the Constitutional Reform Bill was unveiled. After six and a half years of amendments, delays, criticism and acclaim, the final appeal hearings and judgments of the House of Lords took place on 30 July 2009. All 12 law lords were present to rule on points of law in seven cases, including assisted suicide and the royalties to 'a whiter shade of pale'. 130 years of the judicial role of the House of Lords as the highest appeal court in the UK has ended.

    Amongst much media speculation, on 1 October 2009, the newly titled Justices of the Supreme Court, ditched their wigs and breeches and were sworn in at the Supreme Court building, Middlesex Guildhall, in Parliament Square.

    From 1 October, the Supreme Court has assumed jurisdiction on points of law for all civil law cases in the UK and all criminal cases in England and Wales and Northern Ireland. On the 5 October, the Supreme Court heard its first case - a challenge to government powers to create laws without a vote in Parliament.

    Whilst legally, little has changed except for where the judges sit, constitutionally, the Supreme Court creates a separation of powers, as the Law Lords have been removed from the legislature. Lord Phillips, the new president of the Supreme Court, said that "this is the last step in divorcing the law lords from any connection with the legislative business of the House of Lords."