Losing senior peers

untitledThe House of Lords has come in for criticism in recent months, in some cases deserved, but often as the product of a prevailing cynicism – and the House is an easy target, given how few people know about it.  Yet what is worth stressing is the value added by the House to the political process – not least the legislative process.  One of the essential conditions for achieving what it does is the experience and expertise of its members.

By the nature of the House, we lose some members each year.  2015 was notable for the death of some distinguished peers.  They included two former Chancellors – well-known sparring partners – in Lord Healey and Lord Howe of Aberavon (pictured).  Geoffrey Howe was an especially active member of the House, regularly attending until he retired shortly before his death.  We worked closely together in promoting the work of the House.  He was tireless and persistent, his manner hiding a sharp determination.  There were other notable losses.  Baroness Platt of Writtle was a distinguished engineer – she worked in aeronautics – before becoming chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission.  Lord Williamson of Horton was a distinguished civil servant who served as Secretary-General of the European Commission; in the House, he was convenor of the cross-bench peers.  Lord Moser was a leading statistician.  Baroness Rendell was well-known as crime writer Ruth Rendell.  Lord Montagu of Beaulieu had served as the chair of English Heritage, among other public activities.  Lord Molyneaux had been an unassuming leader of the Ulster Unionists.  Lord Mackie of Benshie was an expert of agriculture, but was also a wartime hero who was described  by one peer as the bravest man he had ever met.  Lord Mustill and Lord Griffiths were former law lords.

David Williamson was someone I saw regularly.  We both tended to have lunch in the Bishop’s Bar.  He was extremely interesting in recounting his experience in Brussels and in Whitehall.  He was so insightful that I persuaded him to pen an article for The Journal of Legislative Studies.  He is just one of several peers we have lost over the years who were excellent dining companions in the Bishop’s Bar – Lord Dearing, as one would expect, was always keen to discuss higher education (and, as a Hull University graduate, to hear how the university was faring) and Lord Biffen was wonderfully funny with his insightful reflections on politics and politicians.

They are among peers whose deaths were a great loss to the House.  They were committed to public service.  Two others that I particularly miss are Lords Weatherill and Newton of Braintree, who served as my sponsors when I was introduced into the House.  Bernard (always known as Jack) Weatherill died in 2007 after distinguished parliamentary serevice: he had been Speaker of the Commons and served as convenor of the cross-bench peers.  He was as funny as he was modest.  (He always carried a thimble to remind him of his background as a tailor.)  Tony Newton had been a successful Leader of the House of Commons.  In the Lords, he was full of sage advice and was not afraid to challenge his own government.  Even in 2012 when he was seriously ill, and needed an oxygen tank close to hand, he still turned up to move amendments.

The House has had some members who have not distinguished themselves, but the House has contributed massively to legislative revision through the dedication and knowledge of peers who have committed themselves to public service.

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The Christmas caption competition

DSC03290By popular demand, here is the Christmas caption competition.  It shows Professor Hugh Bochel introducing me when I spoke recently at Lincoln Law School on the future of the Constitution.  I selected this picture because I thought it offered a range of possibilities for a caption.  As ever, the winner will be the reader who produces what in my opinion is the wittiest and most appropriate caption.  The prize will be one of my recent publications.

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Parliament and the courts


Earlier this month, I gave the UK Supreme Court Yearbook Annual Lecture. Delivered in Parliament in Committee Room 1 – the room in which the law lords used to hold hearings – it was based on my article in the Yearbook.  The article was titled ‘Parliament and the Courts: Strangers, Foes or Friends?’  It built on an earlier article of mine, published in the Asia-Pacific Law Review, that focused on the relationship in the context of human rights.

In order to make sense of the relationship between the courts and Parliament, I advanced three models of judicial-legislative relationships. (I mentioned these in an earlier post on my APLR article.) The first is the respective autonomy model.  Here, there is no notable or sustained relationship between the legislature and the courts.  They are essentially strangers to one another.  The second is the competing authority model.  Here there is a relationship between the legislature and the courts, but it is an adversarial relationship.  The third is the democratic dialogue model.  Here there is a relationship between the legislature and the courts, but it is not an adversarial one, but one of constructive engagement.  The two exist as friends, or at least in a relationship of comity.  There is a case for both to be involved, especially in systems where courts can only deal with cases and controversies brought before them.

Historically, the relationship was closest to the first model. Constitutional changes – membership of the EU, devolution, and the Human Rights Act – have created a new and more prominent role for the courts, one in which they render judgments that can be, and in some cases certainly have been, politically contentious.  The changes have induced  the need for dialogue with Parliament and the executive.  The dialogue with Parliament has potential value in creating an ally to resist executive encroachment in areas within the remit of the courts.  The position of the House of Lords has been a continuing element in appreciating the role of the courts and in continuing to provide a means by which the courts can speak to parliamentarians (no longer through the floor of the House, but through committees), both formally and informally, and serve as a buffer should the relationship between the courts and the executive take on the characteristics of competing authority.

There has been a shift from the first to the third model. I developed this argument in the article.  It is also a view shared by the President of the Supreme Court, Lord Neuberger, when giving evidence to the Constitution Committee.  The relationship may, though, come under threat if the Government brings forward a British Bill of Rights.  If it supplants rather than supplements the Human Rights Act, then there may be some tension in the relationship.  Another case of watch this space.

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Merry Christmas

20151222_190249Merry Christmas to all readers.  The picture, taken earlier this week, is of the Christmas tree in New Palace Yard in Parliament.  I hope you have a peaceful Christmas and a successful New Year.

The good news, not least for me, is that I have finished marking essays (well, for the time being – more come in early in the New Year and the statement does not cover draft PhD theses; but that apart…).  This means I hope to have more time shortly to start penning posts.  I will also be posting shortly the Christmas caption competition.  I mention that to encourage you to keep logging on while I write on matters politic…

Right, time for more tea.  Well, it is Christmas.

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The season for marking…

Lord Norton MSP_7935Christmas is the season for marking.  (Mind you, so is Spring and Summer.)  I am busy completing several bundles of essays.  One consequence has been light blogging.  Once the marking is complete, expect to see me making up for lost time with posts on the blog…

Yes, the posts will include a Christmas caption competition.

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And the winner is…

DSC03306Choosing the winning entry for the latest competition was a difficult exercise.  It was a close-run thing.  There were some entries that were topical – not least Daniel Cooper’s – and some that played on the hand gestures and the backdrop.  Tony Sands almost won on the basis of his entries taken together.

However, at the end of the day, I opted for Neil M’s contribution:

Next door, the somewhat smaller group who had actually turned up to hear a speech on the Future of the British Constitution were left slighly puzzled as the Careers and Employability advisor signed them all up for apprenticeships.

If he would like to get in touch, his prize will be on its way.

There will be, by popular demand (well, one reader was especially keen), a Christmas caption competition, though I cannot guarantee that it will have a festive theme…

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The late autumn caption competition


I recently spoke at the University of Lincoln Law School on ‘The Future of the British Constitution?’  It was a good evening, with a large audience.   The university photographer, Ben Mills, took a good number of photographs – several were ideal for the caption competition (so expect to see more in the future).  I have selected this one for a late autumn competition.  As ever, the winner will be the entry that I judge the wittiest and most appropriate to the picture.  The prize will be one of my recent publications.

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