Revolutionary Changes

Article excerpt

Revolutionary changes Building the UK's New Supreme Court: National and Comparative Perspectives, edited by Andrew Le Sueur. Oxford University Press. 2004. 376 pages. $90.

For a system that revels in tradition, iakes only the smallest incremental changes, and thinks modernizing is a dirty word, the changes in the judiciaries of the United Kingdom in the last 10 years have been nothing short of revolutionary. Devolving powers to Scotland, Northern Ireland (where the Assembly is currently suspended), and to a lesser extent, Wales, has made those jurisdictions the vanguard of electing women legislators, instituting judicial nominating commissions, and attempting to operationalize the concept of a representative judiciary.

Clearly on the agenda for a new supreme court in the United Kingdom is the constitutional issue of determining the relationship of the parts to the whole. How will Scotland's independent civil law system fit into a system of appeals, formerly the purview of the Privy Council? Should a judge from Northern Ireland have a guaranteed seat on the House of Lords? Passage of the Human Rights Act of 1998 has brought into sharper focus the relationship with the U.K. as part of international and supranational institutions and the judicial systems they created, the Council of Europe (European Court of Human Rights) and European Union (European Court of Justice), respectively.

Many of us who advocate for reform, such as modernizing the arcane (and discriminatory) system of selecting judges, utilizing judicial staff more effectively, curtailing unlimited oral argument, and developing control over the appellate docket hope that the debate engendered by the passage of the Human Rights Act and more recently in 2003 the abolition of the office of the Lord Chancellor will place some of these other reform issues squarely on the public's agenda.

Into this milieu steps Professor Andrew Le Sueur and his co-authors. Building the UK's New Supreme Court: National and Comparative Perspectives offers lesson-learning from the highest constitutional courts in the United States, Canada, Germany, and Spain as well as the European Court of Justice and European Court of Human Rights. The project on which this book is based (the Constitution Unit) started in 1999 and this volume includes the papers presented at two seminars in 2001. They are relevant to the current debate but, as they preceded it, do not engage it directly.

What are the lessons?

Who is the audience for this text, I wondered repeatedly as I read each chapter. High-level civil servants considering models of reform? The higher judiciary itself? Scholars such as myself specializing in judicial selection and the U.K.'s legal systems more generally? …