Parliaments and courts: the importance of place

The year ended with the arrival of the latest issue of JICL (Journal of International and Comparative Law) in which I have an article that addresses the importance of where institutions of the state are located.

Such institutions are studied primarily in terms of behaviour, powers and outputs.  Little attention has been paid to their location and how this affects relationships between them.  Some are located close to one another and some are in separate cities.  Some share or have shared locations.  The US Supreme Court was located in the Capitol Building until 1935 and the UK’s highest domestic court of appeal, the Appellate Committee of the House of Lords, resided in the Palace of Westminster until 2009, when the law lords decanted the Palace to cross Parliament Square to the new UK Supreme Court.

The article examines the effects of the move of the law lords to the new court.  It addresses the perceived benefits of the court and Parliament sharing the same space and the consequences of separation.  The move from within the Palace of Westminster has effected a shift in judicial-legislative relations from one of respective autonomy to one of democratic dialogue.  Perhaps counter-intuitively, having the highest court within the Palace of Westminster enhanced the functional separation of the legislature and the courts.  Each observed and understood the role of the other (fitting therefore the respective autonomy model).  The separation meant that each needed to develop a form of communication (the democratic dialogue model) in order to reduce the potential for misunderstanding and conflict (the competing authority model).  As a result, various mechanism have been created to facilitate such dialogue.  In part, the House of Lords Constitution Committee plays an important role in this process.

The move from the Palace to the new court is particular to the UK (the law lords having been formally part of the legislature), but the point of the analysis is to show that location matters.  As regular readers will be aware, I have also been researching the importance of social space in legislatures.  In terms of the analysis of the difference made by state institutions, such as legislatures and the courts, political scientists have tended to neglect the importance of place and space.  Both make a difference.

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About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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